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Where I'm Meant To Be

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This is the story of how I almost died. Repeatedly. Don't worry. This is actually a very fun story and the truth is, it isn't even mine. This is the story of a boy named Steve and how we both got away from one of the longest running terrorist organizations in the world. Sounds fun, right?

Now, once upon a time, there was a group of men who wanted to take over the world. They had their own reasons, as most people who want to take over the world do, but they were all wrong ones. This group became known as HYDRA and they are Bad News. You'll learn some more later. Just take my word for it.

But to the important part of the story. Centuries passed and a hop, skip and a boat ride away there grew a kingdom. The kingdom was ruled by a beloved King and Queen who gave birth to a little baby boy. (Steve. Steve is the little baby boy). To commemorate his birth, the kingdom launched fireworks into the air. A flurry of colors, mostly the kingdom's colors of red, white and blue, to celebrate the re-birth of a nation.

The prince was adorable, of course. Unfortunately Steve was also sick… really sick. Doctors from all over came to try to help him. Scientists and magicians and anybody who might help this little boy survive. Eventually there came one, Doctor Abraham Erskine. He said that he had an experimental serum that might help. Steve was on the verge of death and so the desperate Queen and King agreed.

There was a private ceremony and the King and Queen waited with bated breath to hear whether their son had been cured of his ailments. Unfortunately, a HYDRA agent by the name of Alexander Pierce was also there. Pierce had been working with the kingdom for years as an undercover operative and now was his time. After the serum had been administered but before anybody could react, Pierce shot Erskine and took off with the prince.

The kingdom searched and searched but they could not find the prince. For, past the ice on the edge of the water, deep in the forest, in a tower high up and hidden, Alexander Pierce and HYDRA raised Steve to be a soldier. They knew that not only did Erskine's serum make him healthy but it made him strong, it made him capable. And they were going to hone that power for themselves.

The walls of that tower could not hide everything. Each year, on his birthday, the King and Queen released fireworks into the sky. They always hoped that one day their lost prince would return. And from his tower, Steve was drawn to those fireworks, always feeling that there was something important he should know about them.

Steve sits cross-legged in the middle of the floor, listening to the flutter of wings around him. "Three… two… one," he says out loud, making sure that he's loud enough for the bird to hear him. As soon as he's stopped counting, he shoots to his feet, glancing around the small room. He knows it better than the back of his hand, although he's spent plenty of time studying that too. After 18 years here, he knows just about everything that there is to know about it.

It's not even a challenge playing hide and seek with the falcon that is his constant companion. "Found you," he says as he pulls the blanket up from his bed and sees the bird perched underneath the mattress. "Redwing, you're too easy."

He doesn't remember when Redwing became his companion. As far as he knows the bird has been with him since he was created. None of the agents who constantly come to check on him know about Redwing or else he would assume that he was a present from them. However, the bird came to be with him, Steve is grateful to have somebody who cares about Steve, and not just because he's meticulous about his schedule.

A chime goes off and Steve glances up at the clock in the corner, letting out a slow breath. It's 8:00 AM on the dot which means that it's time for his workout. He looks longingly at the walls and bookshelves and every other thing that he could be doing other than working out. It's not that he doesn't enjoy it sometimes but the schedule that they have him on means there's little time for anything else.

"You going to box with me, Redwing?" Steve asks, not expecting a response but needing to pretend that there's somebody else up there with him. Otherwise he'd probably go crazy.

Pierce has explained that Steve doesn't need human company because strictly speaking, Steve isn't a human himself. Sure, he came from the biological material of humans but he was made in a HYDRA laboratory to make the world a better place. Pierce has shown him videos of wars and explosions and other brutalities that came from humans. When Steve is just a little bit older, when he's ready, he will be a soldier for the human race.

The falcon, predictably, doesn't answer and so Steve positions himself in front of the bag, ready to begin his morning workout. He has a strict schedule, decided on and periodically checked by various HYDRA agents. He's even been visited by Baron von Strucker a time or two, to the utter pleasure of Alexander Pierce. It hadn't been special to Steve since it had just meant extra cooking and cleaning for him.

The chimes of the clock, the sound of his fists hitting the punching bag, the gentle flutter of Redwing's wings. That seems to consume Steve's life and he winces as he strikes harder and harder, groaning when the bag goes flying across the room, knocking over the table that his chess board had been sitting on.

"Pierce is going to kill me," Steve mutters, turning to shoot Redwing a glare at the bird's sound of concern. "To be fair, that is the fourth bag this week."

He figures it doesn't matter that much considering they always have it replaced by the end of the day. How? He's not quite sure. But it's always taken care of.

"Well, I have 42 minutes left until I have to stretch. May as well do some painting."

One of the only pleasures in Steve's day is this, the way that the paints mix effortlessly, the way that the paint seems to come to life on the walls. He's covered up the walls with different pictures so many times that he's sure the wall is inches thicker than it was when it was built. There's not much else for him to do, though.

The pictures that he's never covered up include the bright lights that illuminate the sky on his birthday every year. He's made a rainbow of explosions with his brushes and he grabs the red paint to touch up some memories from the previous year. 364 days. He keeps a tally on a notebook by his bed. It's his dream journal. Sometimes he gets flashes, thoughts, ideas. Most of the time he writes them down. Sometimes he doesn't bother.

The times that he wonders whether he’s going to leave the tower scare him because he doesn’t know what will happen if he does. He wants to help mankind, be the soldier that they need, but he's scared. There’s such a wide world out there but he knows nothing about it. Most of the time, he focuses on his schedule. It's easier than fretting.

-

Winter adjusts his goggles, his eyes narrowing behind them. He has a group of soldiers around him but he has no idea their names. He doesn't care. All he cares about is finishing this mission and them maybe letting him get home for a few days. Really, the dingy apartment that he resides in isn't a home but it's the closest thing that he has. Ever since his mom and his sister had died, HYDRA has been his family and his home.

"Two men on the roof. Two more on the-"

"Shut up," Winter growls, sure that the three idiots next to him are about to give away their position. He had wanted to come on this mission alone but for some ridiculous reason Pierce had told him to come with the others. And now Winter can see that they're never going to get through this unscathed.

The man next to him is breathing too heavy, can't even seem to hold his gun straight. Why did Winter get stuck with the incompetent idiots? Why?

"There's a-"

Winter curses loudly as the man that they're supposed to be avoiding, or killing if they can’t, turns to them and pulls out a gun of his own. "You idiot," Winter shouts in the direction of the agent who had given them away and, for good measure, shoots him through the temple.

Fortunately, they already have the vial that they'd come to acquire and so Winter doesn't stay to be shot at. He's sure that he could take care of this if he was on his own but the damn agent that he hadn't shot yet has stepped in front of him and tripped. He had tripped. Winter doesn't know what damn training he went through but obviously it wasn't the same as Winter's.

"Stay where you are!"

Winter rolls his eyes. "That'll happen," he mutters because sometimes he's still the snappy kid that he was years ago. Not often. But sometimes.

There's no use hanging around and so Winter jumps from the rooftop to the next one and then the next, figuring that HYDRA can take care of this themselves. It's not his fault that they didn't let Winter do this alone. If they had then it would be done by now. He still has the vial in his pocket and he really should give it back to HYDRA but damn it, he's pissed that he's still getting shot at by the idiot in the red suit.

"Soldier, wait!"

That's a HYDRA agent but Winter ignores them, barely wincing as he takes a rolling jump off the building and lands in the grass. It only takes him a moment to regain his breath and then he runs again. Winter knows that he shouldn't. Every ounce of his training is telling him to stay where he is and kill the man who had caught them but he's angry. He's angry. How odd.

Blood pounds in Winter's ears, making his head ache with it. He has to… he has to… It seems like time slows down as he runs, through grass and water and he doesn't even shiver as he realizes that ice is moving around him. "Fuck. Fuck," he whispers, panting because he knows he’s going to have to stop eventually.

Nobody's in pursuit of him anymore which works just as well. Now he needs to find a place to collect his thoughts because right now, in this moment, he doesn't know what to do.

-

As expected, Pierce isn't happy about the punching bag and he lets Steve know it. The younger man winces but takes it, knowing that perhaps he'd been punching too hard.

"Yes. It won't happen again, Sir. I apologize," Steve says, resisting the urge to add anything under his breath. He only saves that for special occasions since somehow the HYDRA agent always seems to know when he mumbles.

"Well good. We've already put enough money into you for several lifetimes, Soldier. We don't need to keep replacing punching bags," Pierce says as he grabs one of the grapes from the counter and pops it into his mouth.

Steve's mutinous stomach tells him that’s one less fruit for dinner when he doesn’t get that many sweets to begin with. Fruits like grapes are a welcome distraction. There's no room for sweets in his life like the kinds that he reads about.

"Now, do you have anything further before I leave?" Pierce asks. "HYDRA has deemed you nearly ready. Soon the world will see what it's missing."

It kills Steve not to respond the way that he wants to. His muscles ache from the intense training that Pierce had put him through. His jaw hurts from where Pierce had hit him with a steel bar when Steve wasn't fast enough to block him. He wants to sleep but he knows that he can't since he still needs to eat and train tonight. Being a super soldier doesn't come overnight, he knows. It doesn't make the training any easier.

Then the last part catches up to him and his head jerks up to look at the man. "I'm nearly ready?"

"That is what I just said."

Steve looks up in frustration before looking back at the HYDRA agent, still picking off his grapes. "When? How long? I was thinking-" Then Steve cuts himself off because he's learned that he won't help his cause by asking when he's going to get to go. But… if it's coming soon… just a question won't hurt right?

"Spit it out," Pierce says in a frustrated tone.

The soldier takes a deep breath, trying to steel his nerves. He knows that he wants to ask this but he's never had much luck asking before. Besides, he wants to do good for the world. He wants to be the super soldier that they've been training him to be. "What about the day after tomorrow? For the anniversary of my creation?"

Pierce raises his eyebrows, looking at Steve in that critical way that he always looks at him. "You think that you're going to get something out of going outside? You're not going out for a joyride. You're going out to protect mankind."

"Well, yeah, but that doesn't mean that I can't enjoy it, right? I want to help people. I'm not saying that I don't. But I can help people and see the explosions of color."

Before Pierce even responds, Steve knows what he's going to say. It makes Steve swallow hard and he wishes that he was different. Perhaps if he was normal like everybody else, he'd get the chance to see the world the way that they do. But Steve is different and he has an obligation to the world. He has to help people. "No."

That's it. Just one word but it seems to crush Steve and he slumps in the chair that he's sitting in, frowning. "Why?"

"Why? You ask why? What kind of question is that? You won't be enjoying any colors. You will be taking part in the missions that you are assigned. You don't get a birthday. You are not a person. You are a soldier," Pierce responds. It's all things that Steve has heard before but it still hurts. It still makes him draw in a breath and look away, too wary to look at him much longer.

Steve wants to say something else but after a tense moment of silence he just nods. "Alright. I understand."

That should be enough and Pierce nods, grabbing another handful of grapes, ignoring the way that Steve looks longingly at them. "Good. I'll be back tomorrow to check on your progress."

Steve looks down at his hands, blood smeared on the knuckles, although the scrapes have already closed due to the serum running through his blood. He doesn't say anything as Pierce leaves, doesn't say anything as Redwing flies back in through the tower window to sit on his shoulder.

He doesn't say anything until later, when it's time for him to go to bed. "Well, we can always watch them from the tower again. It's not like that's a bad way to pass the time," Steve mumbles to the falcon perched next to his bed.

Redwing lets out a little sound of agreement and Steve rolls over to pull the pillow over his head, closing his eyes. He has a feeling tonight will be one that he has plenty of dreams.

-

Winter doesn't know when he fell asleep, just that apparently sometime in the night he did. It takes him only a few seconds to realize why he woke and he jerks up, hearing the sound of footsteps. If he was optimistic, he'd believe that it was just some passerby but Winter's never been that lucky.

It's only because he has super senses that he can hear the whispering from outside the trees and he puts a hand to his head. He doesn't get headaches much and it hurts worse than it probably should. He tears off his goggles, tossing them to the ground but it helps very little. Winter blinks once, twice, then one more time, makes sure the vial is still in his pocket and then carefully moves.

The area seems to be abandoned, remote enough that nobody from the kingdom comes out this way. Going through the frozen waters is dangerous and Winter is surprised that he was followed at all. He's silent as he walks, careful not to step on the many branches and twigs that litter the green grass.

It's purely by luck that the other man sees him and he freezes when they lock eyes. "Stop. You're the one who stole that vial. You're under arrest."

"You think you can catch me?" Winter asks, pulling the vial out just to taunt the frustrated looking man. He doesn't risk his luck, though, shoving the vial quickly back into his bag and taking off in a run.

Immediately he feels an ache in his body due to the fact that he had run so far yesterday. He's trained but it doesn't mean that he's invincible. He still feels and right now the pain threatens to down him.

"Stop!"

Winter refuses to be arrested, though, and so he keeps running.

The bag bumps against his hip and he reaches down to grab it, looking down for only a moment. The second that he looks up, he skids to a halt in the dirt, nearly tumbling over as he tries to compensate for the movement.

There's the man that had told him to stop the first few times. He's dressed in what looks like military clothing, black armor with a deep red shade near his shoulders. His dark skin shines with sweat and Winter is glad that at least he's not the only one who seems to be having trouble with all of the running.

"You're going to give me that bag and you're going to come with me or else," the man says in a dangerous voice and Winter looks closer at him. He has what looks like a pack around his shoulders and he wonders what's in that bag of his. A bomb? Guns? Winter narrows his eyes. He doesn't want to get into a firefight in the middle of the forest, even if he thinks that he'd win.

"Or else what?" Winter asks in as sarcastic a tone as he can muster as he glances around. To the right of him is an angry looking cliff that he has no real desire to try to jump from. To his left is forest which is probably his best bet. He can most likely lose the other man in the trees. He can't look behind him because he's not stupid and in front of him is the soldier.

The man glares daggers at him and Winter can't help the tiny smirk that appears on his lips. Apparently, this week is just his time for making enemies. Well it's not like he hasn't done this before. "Or else I, Captain Sam Wilson, will arrest you in the name of the Kingdom of York."

The haughty way that the soldier says it makes Winter snort with laughter. He clears his throat, making sure that his pack is secure on him and then gives the man a mocking salute. "Good luck, good sir."

Winter is pretty sure that his sarcasm will be the reason that he gets shot one day as Sam pulls a gun out of the holster at his side and Winter immediately ducks into the forest to his left, cursing. It's just an undeniable part of himself, something that even the intense training that he had gone through couldn't force out of him.

A step here, a quick jerk to the right there. He can do this. He obviously is faster than the man behind him, although it seems that Wilson does have an advantage in that he seems to have traversed these woods before. It's all Winter can do not to get shot or trip over a stray branch or run into a tree.

"Just stop running before you get us both killed!" Sam calls as he sees Winter slam into a tree hard enough that he sees stars.

The tree, not sturdy by any means, immediately tilts precariously, which must've sparked the man's warning. Winter presses a hand to his head, hard, trying to quell the pain blossoming behind his eyes. "Fuck," he mutters, the very word hurting to say.

Winter makes sure that the tree isn't going to fall on him, he doesn't care if it falls on the other man, and then takes off running again. Almost immediately he knows that this isn't going to work. He can barely run, can barely see through the pain in his temple. He knows that it'll heal soon but for now he's dangerously close to collapsing.

"I know that had to hurt! Just stop and we can talk!"

"What a crock of shit," he yells over his shoulder, glancing around quickly. Through his tunneling vision he can see a tiny opening in between some vines and, after glancing behind him to make sure that Wilson is far enough off, he darts through them. It's more difficult than he had thought but his strength comes in handy as he tears them apart.

He can hear Wilson go running past the vines and he lets out a breath, glancing over at the rock walls surrounding him. In the dim light, surrounded by the rock walls on two sides and vines on the other, he can see a small symbol.

"HYDRA," he whispers, reaching up to touch the engraved head. His head jerks up, his heart starting to pound because he's sure that HYDRA isn't exactly going to be happy with him right now. He has to get somewhere safe.

Since going back isn't an option with Wilson still in his hearing, he moves forward, through the other curtain of vines. They're sticky, obviously meant to keep whatever's beyond them in hiding and he draws in a sharp breath when he sees.

The tower has to be stories high, dark browns and greens making it blend into the landscape behind it. Winter's mind immediately goes wild, wondering how long the tower has been here, wondering what is even up there. There has to be something precious if it's hidden so completely. Maybe it's even worth more than whatever's in the vial that he had stolen from the castle.

Either way, he has to get out of the way and that place seems to be the best. Winter approaches slowly, mindful of any booby traps that might be around but whoever built this tower was obviously confident that nobody would make it past the vines. He wonders whether whoever built the tower was overconfident or just stupid. Maybe a bit of both, considering what he knows about HYDRA.

Winter knocks on stones at the bottom of the tower but he can't find any doors and, since he's not sure how much longer he can stay conscious, he shrugs his shoulders and decides to just climb.

It's not hard to find enough footholds in the clumsy stones and he's intrigued by the downright primitive style of the tower. Maybe there isn't anything worth much up there but as long as he can rest for a while, the tower will do fine.

Winter makes the mistake of glancing down when he's halfway up and he winces, trying not to think about how his head is still pounding and what would happen if he fell. He's not going to fall, he tells himself. It's with great relief that he pushes himself through the small window frame, accidentally knocking over a small pot of flowers on the edge of the sill. Flowers?

"Hello?" He calls out, glancing around the dimly lit room. Immediately he can see workout equipment, a bookshelf, a chessboard on a small table and-

He'd already been struggling for conscious and he loses quickly when he's hit across the head with something that makes a resounding crack against his skull and seems to be red, white and blue.

Chapter Text

Redwing makes a clicking sound on Steve's shoulders, his talons digging into sensitive skin as they stare down at the man on the floor of the tower. He's more rugged than Steve's ever seen a man, hair longer than any of the HYDRA agents who've passed through. There's stubble dotting his cheeks and his shoulders bulge nearly as much as Steve's do, maybe even more. Steve kind of wants to reach down and touch him but the second he starts to move forward, Redwing nips him.

"What? He's just a man," Steve says softly, clearing his throat and nudging the man with his toe. The man is dressed all in black although the mask covering his face is askew from being hit so hard with Steve's shield. Dark hair covers his eyes and Steve lets out a slow breath, giving in and leaning in to push a strand off his forehead. He's undeniably the most attractive man that Steve has ever seen, not that he's seen that many.

"Just a man," Steve whispers, swallowing hard and he's only stopped from moving forward by the man groaning softly. Steve doesn't think, simply swings his arm and hits him hard in the head with his shield.

Which probably is a problem considering that it cuts open his eyebrow and Steve is sure that it's going to bruise. He can't get blood on the floor or else the agents will know that somebody else has been in here.

"I hope he's not dead," Steve says to Redwing, reaching down to push the man's sleeves up slightly to grab his wrists. He freezes, his hands halfway towards him when he sees that one arm is skin while the other is covered in what looks to be sheets of metal. Steve looks up to make sure that the man is still unconscious before he grabs his wrist and lifts it up.

"I think… it's actually metal," Steve mutters to the falcon, feeling the weight and flicking his nail across the material to see if he can try to pull it off. There's not even a seam and Steve glances up higher, where the man's arm would meet his shoulder. He's wearing what looks like a bulletproof vest, packs of weapons across his chest and buckling on his back.

Redwing lets out a low hoot and Steve shrugs. "I know how it sounds but I can't think of any other explanation. Maybe he really is with HYDRA. What if he is? Then I could trust him, at least, if he wants to help people. Although it doesn't explain why he's here."

The clock chimes low and Steve frowns, realizing that he's still holding the man's metal wrist. "Oh they're going to be here soon. I have to hide him." Another hoot from Redwing and Steve turns to look at the falcon. "I don't have a choice, do I? If they find him here…"

Trying to ignore the fact that the man's arm is decidedly not normal, he grasps the man's wrists and drags him towards the small closet area where Steve keeps his clothing. He knows that an agent will be by soon to check his progress for the day and he has a feeling that the strange man will be shot dead on sight if he's discovered. Steve doesn't want to risk that.

When the man is securely hidden away, Steve lets out a breath, turning around in circles a few times, not sure what to do with himself. "What am I going to do? There's a man in my closet. There's a man with a metal arm in my closet."

Redwing lets out a small noise of agreement, although he sounds more frustrated than Steve did and Steve knows it's because of the risk of having him here.

"What HYDRA doesn't know won't hurt them. I'm supposed to be helping people and if he came in here then maybe he needs help? Maybe HYDRA even sent him here so that I can help him? Did you ever think about that? You know that it's nearly impossible to get through those vines," Steve says, trying to convince himself more than the falcon as he looks at the closet. Steve hasn't decided what he's going to do when the man wakes up but that's a worry for another time.

It's not a moment too soon when the sound of footsteps echo through the tower. Without any time to put it away, Steve shoves the shield on top of the man and rushes towards the chess board, sitting down and picking up a pawn. It's not Pierce this time and Steve tries not to let out a visible reaction when he sees Brock Rumlow step through the door.

Rumlow is kinder than Pierce, in his own ways. He seems to have a stronger sense of duty. There's something about him that gets under Steve's skin in a way that he doesn't understand, in a way that few of the other agents do. Rumlow raises his eyebrows when he looks at Steve, his face tight and stressed. "You look like you haven't been exercising enough," Rumlow says, in way of greeting.

"I could say the same about you," Steve responds smoothly. The one thing that he can say about Rumlow is that he can say whatever he wants to the man and generally he just laughs.

This time his lips only twitch, his arms crossing over his chest. Perhaps the man is tired? Steve is curious but he doesn't ask, knowing that he won't get a straight answer. He doesn't deserve an answer, after all. Rumlow is only here to check on his progress and then he'll leave.

"Do you have food? Everything you need?"

Steve nods jerkily. Rumlow also doesn’t steal his food. "When am I getting out of here?"

"What has Pierce told you?" Rumlow asks, looking around at the paintings on the walls with distaste. Since Rumlow is more serious, he doesn't tend to care for the fact that Steve has so much free time but he doesn't have the seniority to say anything about it.

"Not enough. Apparently I'm not ready yet. Respectfully I disagree, though. I've done all of my training. I'm fit. I can fight. I'm ready to go out. I want to go out tomorrow," Steve says, knowing that it's pointless as Rumlow's face just gets darker.

The agent is obviously hiding something and Steve is dying of curiosity over what it could be. What could be bothering the man so much? "You're not ready yet. Besides, there are things you don't know. HYDRA is… experiencing some difficulties."

"But I can help! That's what I was made for. I want to help HYDRA. I want to help the world, teach the humans, make sure they don’t ruin themselves," Steve stresses, needing them all to understand that he's ready. He's ready and it's not just because he wants to see the explosions tomorrow.

Rumlow turns to give him a glare that would melt the skin off a lesser man. Steve just sits up straighter in his chair. He's not afraid of Rumlow. "Shut up and take your orders, Soldier. The answer is no and nobody's going to change their mind. You're stuck here until further notice."

"But-"

"I said no! Now stop talking or else I'll make sure you don’t get out for a long time," Rumlow snaps and Steve stares at him, fear filling his entire being. Does Rumlow have that kind of authority? If Steve frustrates them enough could they really forbid him from ever leaving? He doesn’t even need to think to know the answer is yes. He’s nothing. They could manufacture another one of him easily. "I believe you should be doing other things right now. Don't slack."

Steve doesn't say anything else as Rumlow leaves, his body tense. He takes a deep breath as Redwing flies out from where he was hidden from the agent and settles himself on Steve's shoulder again. "How can they act the way that they do?" Steve asks morosely, slumping a bit in the chair. "How can they act like I haven't done everything they've asked? All I want is one thing. I want to help people… why can't I be helped just once?"

As Steve looks down at the table, Redwing nudges Steve's cheek with his beak and Steve smiles slightly. "We should go see whether that man is dead, shouldn't we? I probably shouldn't have hit him so hard."

Steve heads towards the closet, opening it and wincing as the man crumples out, falling onto his face. Steve grabs his shield, hooking it onto his back to ensure that he has it close and moves towards the man. "He's got something here," Steve murmurs, grabbing the pack that's wrapped around the man's shoulder and pulling it open.

"There's a bottle of something…" Steve says as he shakes it gently, watching as the blue liquid froths up and then settles almost immediately. Steve doesn't know what it is and so he sets it back into the bag and, after a moment's consideration, puts the bag into a vase in the corner. He doesn't want the man to think that Steve's trying to steal from him but it must be important if he's carrying it all this way.

Redwing nips at his cheek again and Steve glances over at him, nodding. "You're right. I should probably…" he trails off, moving quickly and efficiently. It's not every day that he has a man on his floor but he's trained enough with HYDRA operatives. He has rope in the utility cabinet and he grabs it, maneuvering the man with ease into a chair and tying him up expeditiously.

The man doesn't even flinch as he moves him, although Steve can feel the steady rise and fall of his chest. He assumes that the man is at least going to live. He hopes. That would be horrible if he didn't. Steve would've killed an innocent man… and he would have to explain that to HYDRA. He's not sure which is worse. The first would weigh on his conscious forever but he's not sure what kind of punishment he would get.

Steve shivers, reaching up to pet down Redwing's head when the falcon looks at him curiously. "Nothing," Steve says as he glances up at the clock. It's almost time for his weight training but he can skip it for one day, right? He can skip it for one day because he doesn't want to let this man out of his sights. He goes to pick up one of his approved reading lists and sits in the corner to read.

-

Winter doesn't think that he's ever had a headache the way that he does now, before or after the experiments that made him into the super soldier that he is today. He doesn't know where he is and he only vaguely remembers where he came from. There'd been a mission, a serum similar to the one that had made him. He'd been sent to retrieve it from the palace. HYDRA had been willing to pay handsomely.

He keeps his eyes closed as he moves his arms the slightest amount, realizing that somebody has him. He's tied up. Winter knows that he's strong and could probably break out immediately but he decides that he should stay for the moment at least. It's good to know what the hell is going on.

"I know that you're awake. I can see you moving."

Winter's eyes snap open and he looks over, surprised when he sees a man with a bird on his shoulder standing and watching him. His throat immediately goes dry and he tells himself it has nothing to do with the man's broad shoulders, sharp jawline and deep blue eyes that seem to be staring straight through him. He's pale, paler than looks to be healthy and has a look more suspicious than he's seen on HYDRA agents. He's also the most gorgeous man that Winter has ever seen.

"I'm assuming you're not a member of the Avengers?" Winter asks, referring to the nickname that people use for the Royal Guard. It's a silly nickname and they all know it but it's stuck.

The man in front of him frowns. "The Avengers?"

Winter shakes his head. "Never mind. So who are you then?"

At Winter's question, the man's frown deepens. "You broke into my tower and you ask me who I am? Who are you?"

"My codename is the Winter Soldier. Everybody calls me Winter. I was on the run and I-" Winter suddenly realizes and glances around, his eyes narrowing as he tries to figure out where this strange man might've hidden his bag. "Where's my bag? Did you do something with my bag?"

The man's eyes narrow as the bird on his shoulder flaps it's wings. The man seems to settle the bird and it calms down, although still looks at Winter with a far too human look. "I've hidden it and you're not getting it back until you answer some of my questions. Now-"

"It's in the vase," Winter says, not even needing a response. The look on the man's face is enough to let him know that Winter's guess was spot on.

Winter's so busy staring at the vase that he doesn't notice the shield flying at him until it's too late. Then he doesn't see much for a while.

When he wakes up it's to the bird pecking at his cheek and Winter has to remind himself that he's hiding his cards. He doesn't want the man to know that he can break through the bonds easily until he knows what he's up against. "You need to stop doing that. And if your pigeon touches me again, I'll-" Winter starts.

The bird and the man let out nearly identical squawks. "Redwing is a falcon," the man snaps, crossing his arms over a shirt that's much too tight for the overly large muscles that he has going on. Winter tells himself not to stare. It's not as if he's never seen attractive people before. This man just seems to be more attractive than most. "You say you're the Winter Soldier? Who is that? Is that why you have a metal arm? Because you're a soldier?"

Winter sighs, flexing his muscles and testing the weight of the rope. It's thick but nothing he can't get out and he considers it. But there's no real threat yet and, while he really doesn't want to stay here at least he's away from HYDRA and the Avengers. He's surprised by how nonchalant that Steve is about his arm. Most people freak out upon seeing it and he's surprised that Steve didn't.

"You could say that, I guess. I lost my arm in an accident. They replaced it with something to make me more efficient." It's not everything there is to it but he figures that the less that the other man knows the better.

Steve nods again, looking like he's contemplating saying something. Winter prepares himself, figuring that it's just as well that Steve shows the disgust or whatever he's going to now. Winter tries to tell himself that he's used to it but sometimes he wonders if he ever really will be. He hates admitting that honestly it still kind of hurts. Not that he'd ever tell any HYDRA agents that. "It's heavy. Is it hard to carry around?"

That shocks Winter and he looks at Steve oddly. The look obviously doesn't seem to bother Steve, the other boy simply staring at him. "Uh, I guess. I try not to think about it. Now, as fascinating as this conversation is, do you plan on letting me go?"

"Oh," Steve says, as if he just remembered and he frowns, clears his throat. "Right. So what are you doing here in my tower? I never get visitors, except… I never have anybody come up here. It's nearly impossible. Why are you here?"

Winter hears where Steve stops and then starts in a different direction and he finds that he just gets more curious about the man the longer that he hears him talk. He reminds himself that all that matters is the serum. He has to take that away. He'll probably take it to HYDRA but if not then he'll have to figure out something to do with it.

"There's no particular reason. I was sent on a mission by HYDRA to find something from the palace, the thing that's in that bag. And now I'm on the run from everybody because I have it. Your tower is just what I happened to find. Happy?"

Some emotion flashes over the other man's face, fast enough that Winter can't tell what it is but it doesn't look like it's good for him. "You're with HYDRA?"

"Heard of them?" Winter asks with a smirk, expecting terror or concern but instead there's… relief? Why the hell is the man relieved?

The man looks at Winter for a long few moments before he nods and turns away to confer with his bird. Winter stares at them as the man whispers something and the bird seems to… disagree. Winter has no idea what world he's come into but it's certainly not his own.

"Alright, Winter, then. I want to offer you a deal," the man says and Winter raises his eyebrows, inclining his head to show that he's listening. The man jumps, using his obviously considerable strength to pull himself up onto a ledge, pointing towards paintings of fireworks on the wall. "Do you know what these are?"

Winter frowns, wondering just what is going on. Does this man know something about HYDRA that Winter doesn't? He hates being caught in situations unawares. "The fireworks that they do for the kingdom and the long lost prince?"

"Fireworks…" the man breathes and Winter stares at him and at the bird who he swears is nodding on his shoulder but that's completely ridiculous. "Tomorrow night they're going to explode in the sky and I want to see them. You will escort me there and as soon as you bring me home again then I'll give you back your bag."

"That's not going to happen. I'm a wanted man, you see. And while I know that I can fight my way out of any situation I'd just prefer not to. Understand?"

"Look, there's going to be no fighting-"

"There's always fighting."

The man glares and the bird seems to puff up. "Well it doesn't bother me if you don't get your bag back but let me tell you that this tower was built for things like that. You can try as hard as you want but there's no way that you're going to find your bag. I saw the vial. It looks valuable. The only way that you're getting it back is if you take me to the kingdom and back."

Winter weighs his options. He has a few of them. He figures that no matter how buff that the man is he can still take him. It still weighs on Winter that he doesn't know anything about him and he really doesn't want to risk it when he's made it so far. Winter sets his jaw. "So I take you to the kingdom, show you the fireworks and take you back and you'll give me back my bag? Can't you see the fireworks from here?"

"It's not the same as seeing them up close. They're far away from here." Winter can't help but feel suspicious over the mission but the man just looks so sincere. He looks as if he wants nothing more than to simply see some fireworks and maybe help some old women across the street. So different than who Winter is. It almost makes him hurt but the Winter Soldier doesn't get hurt. He's not allowed to be hurt.

"Fuck, fine," Winter snaps, shaking his head when the man moves to let him out of his bonds. It takes more than Winter had thought it would to get out of the bonds. A full three flexes of his muscles but they fray and snap just as he knew that they would. "I will warn you not to underestimate me. If you try to betray me…"

There's something very sick looking about the other man now, even more pale than before which Winter hadn't thought possible. "Don't worry, Winter. I won't be underestimating you. I'm Steve, by the way," Steve says, pulling the shield off of where it sat strapped to his back and throwing it. Winter watches as it wedges in the wall perfectly, just on the target that the man was obviously aiming for. "And you should know not to underestimate me either."

Winter does not find that hot. He really doesn't. And he tells himself that six more times, just to be sure.

Chapter Text

Steve's packed very little for the trip which Winter supposes shouldn't have surprised him. After all, they were only going to be gone a couple of days but Steve had seemed the type to want to bring things that were sentimental to him. Winter probably shouldn't judge a book by its cover but there's just something about soft, sweet, pale Steve that makes Winter almost think of a child. Winter wonders how old the other man is but decides he doesn't want to ask.

Now, as Winter stands at the window, preparing to just jump, save himself the trouble, he looks back at Steve. The other man looks conflicted and Winter raises an eyebrow. "Feeling like you want to stay?" he asks, unable to keep a certain amount of hope out of his voice.

"Not at all," Steve says, his voice even and contained. Winter watches curiously as he pats his pockets, looks over at Redwing, makes sure that his shield is clipped securely to his back. Obviously, Steve is a worrier.

Winter doesn't really believe him but he nods, turns and jumps. Whether Steve follows him or not remains to be seen but he hopes at least that the man will toss the bag down if he doesn't. Winter lands on one knee with barely a wince, looking up to see Steve standing at the window, ringing his hands. Just when Winter is about to call up, ask if Steve will drop the bag, Steve jumps, similar to Winter.

The execution is sloppier than Winter, Steve's body unsteady as he lands but Winter knows that it's an acquired skill. It hadn't been easy for him to acquire it himself. Winter doesn't often let himself get emotional but he can't help but feel something when he sees the look on Steve's face. There's a pure joy there as he reaches down, unlacing his shoes and slipping them and his socks off. Winter raises an eyebrow but doesn't say a word, simply observes as Steve wiggles his toes in the grass.

"Have you-"

"Hold on. I'm enjoying this," Steve murmurs, interrupting Winter's question. Winter rolls his eyes and turns away, letting Steve has his moment. "Oh my god."

Winter turns around sharply, preparing for a HYDRA agent or perhaps an Avenger but instead Steve twirls around, his arms wide. "Huh?"

Steve ignores his question, suddenly running past him. He's still wiggling his toes even as he runs, his arms outstretched and his blonde hair raised in the wind. This is the man who had just threatened Winter not to underestimate him? What a laugh.

Without much of a choice, Winter follows behind him at a slower pace. The closer that he can get to Steve the more that he can hear him. "They can't expect me to stay if they never let me actually complete my mission."

Steve seems to know where to go, moving through the vines and then freezing in front of the trees. "I'm outside. I'm here. I can't believe that I'm actually out and here…" Pure joy seems to taint his voice on that sentence as he turns in a circle, as if he doesn't know where he wants to go first.

Winter sighs, his hands clenching into fists as he follows Steve through the trees, thinking about anything but the weird man who's dragging him through the forest. "But what if this ruins my chance to help people?"

"I can't help people when I'm stuck in a tower." Steve explores everywhere that he can, peeking into caves and climbing up half the trees that they see to get a better view from the top.

"This is the best thing that has ever happened to me."

"This could mean bad things for so many people."

Winter gives up on even trying to understand the gibberish that he's talking about. Just another mystery about the man that he can't understand. When Winter truly can't stand any more, he goes up to where Steve is sitting with his elbows against his knees, staring in front of him, a sick expression on his face. "You're looking a little unsure."

"What?" Steve asks, barely sparing Winter a glance.

Winter clears his throat, tries to remember how to be comforting. It's been a long time since he's been comforted himself so he isn't quite sure how to do it. "Well, I don't know what the hell that you were mumbling over but it seems that you're not as sure as you'd like me to believe. There's plenty of time to see the world and if this is really going to involve you being selfish and potentially ruining lives, well…"

"You think that this would ruin people's lives?" Steve asks uncertainly, staring up at Winter with watery eyes.

Knowing that he has to play this carefully, Winter shrugs, crossing his arms over his chest. If he can just get Steve to want to go back home then it wouldn't really be him, would it? It would be Steve's choice and he wouldn't need to feel guilty and Steve couldn't blame him at all. And he'd get the damn bag back sooner rather than later. "I think it definitely could." It's not really a lie, is it? Winter's sure it could ruin Steve's life if it goes wrong.

Steve looks so wide-eyed at Winter that the soldier almost regrets the words. Winter doesn't think that he's ever met a man like Steve before. He's definitely not a child, as evidenced by the muscles threatening to rip his overly tight shirt but the way he looks now brings an innocence to mind.

"Maybe we should just head back," Winter prompts, looking over at the bird with his head under his wing on a rock. "You can call your parrot, make sure you've got that trusty shield and I can take you back to your tower where I will retrieve my bag."

Steve's eyes narrow and he half moves as if he's going to grab his shield off his back. "I'm going to see the explosi- fireworks. And you're going to take me. You will get your bag back after that."

Winter is surprised by the burst of anger and he has to stop his mouth from twitching. It's like watching an overgrown puppy try to be vicious. Winter can tell that there's something lurking under Steve, some kind of temper that he probably doesn't want to cross but for now it's still rather adorable. "Alright, fine."

They stare at each other, a match of wills that Winter knows that he has already lost due to circumstance. He rolls his eyes, turning around and preparing to walk when there's a rustle from the bushes. Winter immediately pulls two guns out of his holsters, crouching slightly as he eyes the source of the noise. Realizing that he does have somebody in his care and, while he doesn't particularly care about random men's safety, he does have to have Steve safe if he wants his serum back, Winter looks over.

Steve is crouched next to him in a defensive position, his shield held in front of him, his body poised as if he's ready to pounce. The bird is sitting with his wings back on his shoulder, as if it could do anything against HYDRA agents. Winter's brows furrow, wondering just who this man is. "Is it HYDRA?" Steve whispers out of the corner of his mouth, looking over at Winter, as if he wants Winter to go first.

It does make sense since Winter will know who it is and he takes two steps forward, stopping when he sees the shadow approaching. He groans when he sees the rabbit pop out of the brush, looking up at them as if they're crazy. What's with the judgmental animals lately? Winter lets out a breath as Steve stands up, clipping his shield onto his back again. "I think we're safe," Winter says dryly.

Steve grins. "Are we really? I hadn't noticed. I guess I'm a little paranoid. I don't want people to find us, especially not crowds of people."

Winter resists the urge to respond that he'd noticed. Then he realizes what Steve had said. "Crowds of people? Yeah that would be a problem wouldn't it…" Winter clears his throat to keep his smirk contained, not wanting Steve to know where his thoughts are. "You know, that scare has really got me hungry. Are you interested in lunch? I think that I am."

The change of topic catches Steve by surprise, Winter can tell, and it takes him a moment to respond. "Oh. Yeah. That sounds great. I just… don't have any money?"

"Don't worry. I'll take care of it," Winter says, a bright grin illuminating his features. He's been told that his wide smile with his teeth like this is scary but he can't help it. This idea has to work.

-

Winter isn't sure whether Steve has noticed the new bounce in his step but he's sure that this time it's going to work. Once they get through the Howling Commandos Steve is going to be begging to go back to his tower where he's safe.

"How much farther is it?" Steve asks curiously as they step over a few fallen trees.

"Just up past that clearing," Winter says, pointing with his good hand. He's pulled his spare gloves on, not sure how they'd fallen off in the first place. Steve had been surprisingly okay with his metal arm but Winter still isn't and so he tries his best to hide it. They walk in silence the rest of the way until they come across the bar that Winter had first found years ago. "There it is."

"The… Howling Command Post?" Steve asks, an expression on his face that Winter would compare to disgust if he had to compare it to anything.

With a nod, Winter takes off towards the door. "You're going to love it here. There's never that many people here and they're the nicest guys you'll ever meet." The second part is mostly true at least.

Steve looks suspiciously over at Winter, shifting his shield on his back. Redwing flies over to rest on his shoulder, seeming to squeeze with his talons. "I don't know how hungry that I am. Maybe we should wait until we get to town."

"Nonsense! They make the best goulash you'll ever taste," Winter says, waving his hand dismissively. He doesn't give Steve a choice but to follow him as he heads for the door.

Follow him Steve does, at a very close pace, as Winter opens the door. "How're my Howling Commandos doing?" Winter yells as he comes in, grinning at the men who aren't his biggest fans. But then, he hasn't ever met anybody he hasn't pissed off at one point or another.

"Winter. You're back here, are you? Come carrying stolen goods again?" Dum Dum, a heavily muscled and always heavily armed man wearing a bowler hat, shouts. There are men surrounding them, some laughing and singing in drunk revelry, some talking in probably too loud voices. Winter can see a group playing cards in the back and he recognizes quite a few of them.

Winter smirks. "Not this time." Not technically a lie. He doesn't have the stolen goods with him. At his side, Steve presses close enough that Winter can feel his body heat, even through their layers of clothing. He swallows hard and tries to tell himself that it doesn't affect him. "Just came to have a drink with my new friend, Steve."

"I really don't-" Steve says but Winter ignores him.

"We don't want any trouble. Hey, wow, that is a big gun," Winter says, pointing to the machine gun hooked to Gabe's belt. He can see that the Commandos, the term for the patrons and staff who are here almost every day, all seem to be paying closer attention to him. "Can I see it?"

Gabe looks at him as if he's gone absolutely mad. It just serves as further amusement for Winter and further terror for Steve who Winter swears is trying to crawl inside him with how close that he's pressed. "No," he says firmly.

"Winter, I really think-"

"Come on. These are some great guys," Winter says, coughing as one of the men passes by, drunkenly stumbling and spilling half of his drink across the two of them. He has to remember that this is what he's here for since on any other occasion he'd be grabbing the man by his collar and making sure he knew not to do something like it again.

At his side, Steve isn't so calm, gasping and looking down at the wet blotches on his chest and oh… Winter had thought the tight shirt looked good before. It defines even more when it's wet and Winter has to quickly look away. "Winter, I'm really-"

"Hey, mans, I'm sorry, I-" They both turn and jump as the man who had spilled his drink gasps and stares at them. "Wait. You're the Winter Soldier, huh? You're a wanted man right now."

Winter can feel Steve tense at his side and he reaches his hand out, pressing to the outside of Steve's wrist in a silent warning not to say a word. "I'm always heavily wanted."

Behind the bar, Dum Dum seems to be looking between the two of them and then his eyebrows furrow. Winter wants to curse. "Wait, I think I heard that. You stole that science experiment from the palace?"

"I might've… borrowed something from the palace," Winter says slowly and he can talk his way out of this, he's sure. He's heavily trained to be able to talk his way out of situations like this. He just has to think faster. He can do this.

Winter looks over as James grabs his human arm and Winter tries to jerk loose. "Hold on, now."

"We don't take kindly to people stealing from the good King and Queen," Jim says as Jacques grabs his other arm.

"Wait-" Steve tries to say at his side but he's drowned out by the mob of men around him who are making sure to hold him so he doesn't get away.

Winter has a vague thought that this is probably karma as Gabe pulls out the machine gun he'd been admiring earlier and raises it in Winter's direction. Even if he thought he could fight his way out of things, he's no chance against a gun. He might be a super soldier but even he has things he can't recover from. Getting shot in the skull is one of them.

"Junior, why don't you run off to go alert Captain Wilson that we've got the Winter Soldier here?" Dum Dum says and Winter winces as he immediately hurries to comply, the door slamming shut behind him.

"Hold on! Let him go!" No longer frozen at his side, Steve tries to pull some of the men off of him. Winter can see that he's obviously not using his full strength. If he was then he'd succeed easily but Winter can see why he might not want to hurt them. His lips twist with a sneer. After all, they are only wanting to abide by the law. Winter doesn't bother to try, having a feeling that it would be easy for him to get shot even by accident in the chaos.

With Winter firmly in the men's hold, Dum Dum turns his attention to Steve. Steve stands with his jaw set and his back firm. "Another criminal? Are you working with him?" Dum Dum asks and Steve narrows his eyes.

"Of course not. I'm not a criminal. My name is Steve and Winter is my guide. He found me in my tower and all I've ever wanted is to go see the explosions that light up the sky on the day of my creation and Winter is going to take me to see them so you need to let him go so that he can take me."

Winter winces, hoping that Steve didn't just make things worse. At least he didn't mention the stolen vial although maybe he was just smart enough to know that it wouldn't have helped his cause. The men around him seem to tighten their grip and Winter has to tense, telling himself that he can get out later but right now he needs to let them take him. It's an almost physical pain.

"You have to let him go. It's all that I've ever wanted. Please," Steve says, his voice low and Winter's brow furrows when a few of the men start to slacken their grip. "You all have to understand about wanting something so badly right?"

There's silence, a few tense seconds when Winter wonders if they're just going to shoot him right now. Jim has a contemplative expression on his face, Gabe seems to be staring at the barrel of his gun rather than him and Dum Dum steps forward, standing so that he's nearly chest to chest with Steve. Steve has a few inches on the other man but Winter can't honestly tell who's more intimidating. Neither one seems willing to give even an inch.

"I understand," Dum Dum says after a charged moment, his eyes narrowing at the man in front of him. "I did want something like that once."

Winter breathes out, his lips curling because what?

"When I was young, I wanted to run away and join the circus. I always figured that I'd be good as the strongman," Dum Dum continues, flexing his muscles and Steve grins widely. "So, I did."

That makes Steve raise his eyebrows while Winter shakes off the lone hand that's still holding him. "You did? That's great. Did you enjoy it?" Steve sounds so damn sincere that Winter again wonders about the mysteries behind this man.

Dum Dum shrugs. "It was okay. Found out that my life passion was owning a bar, though. Who would've known?"

That makes Steve pause but only for a moment before he's grinning and looking at the man next, Jim. "What about you?"

Winter stands in absolute awe, listening as Jim talks about how he always wanted to pull the ultimate prank on somebody, about how Jacques had always wanted to work in a lab with chemicals.

They migrate over to a table with some drinks and the stories continue. James wanted to sky dive from the tallest bridge in the world, Pinky always wanted to have tea with the queen. It seems to go on and on with Steve listening intently to each story, encouraging and actually seeming to care. Just when he thinks that he's been forgotten, Dum Dum turns to Winter. "What about you?"

"Uh… Oh. I don't dream like that," Winter responds immediately. He's not allowed to think about things that he doesn't have.

The other men don't take kindly to that. "Are you saying that real men don't dream?"

"Everybody's got to have a dream."

Winter shrugs. "Not me."

Steve's looking at him with eyes that border on sympathetic before he smiles softly. Winter freezes when Steve reaches out, resting a hand on his wrist. "You have to have something you've always wanted."

Drawing in a sharp breath, Winter turns to look at him. It's harder to say no to Steve which strikes him as a bit pathetic. "I've always wanted to travel," he finally says, looking down at where Steve seems to be subconsciously stroking his skin with his thumb. The feeling makes his heart start pounding. "See all of the different places that I've never had the chance to before."

"That's a great dream," Steve says, so damn sincere that Winter kind of wants to punch him. He clears his throat, pulling his hand away from Steve just in time as the door slams.

Winter's head snaps up and he gasps inaudibly when he sees Junior come rushing in and their eyes lock. He reaches out, grabbing Steve's wrist and pulling him while Junior opens his mouth. "I found Captain Wilson!"

Winter can hear as the man from the forest comes rushing in, other footsteps following behind him. "What're we-" Steve starts in a soft voice but Winter squeezes delicate bones and pulls him behind the counter.

"I want him! And I want the vial that he's holding. Find him. He's in here," Wilson's voice comes from above them.

Near them, Winter can hear other voices, obviously a few belonging to females and he closes his eyes tight, trying to figure out the best way to fight. Steve twitches at his side and Winter opens his eyes again, pulling back when he sees Dum Dum kneeling next to them. "Look-" Winter starts but Dum Dum shakes his head.

"Go," he says, pressing on a small button above their head. He gestures them forward as a trap door slowly lowers, making both Winter and Steve lean forward. "Go ahead and follow your dreams."

Winter swallows hard as Steve nods sharply, giving Dum Dum a grin before they're both rushing. "We'll have to return to thank him later," Steve says softly as the pathway widens and they're able to stand fully again.

"Or never return there again," Winter mumbles. That had not worked out well for him at all. He had meant for Steve to get so scared by the large crowd of rough men that he'd want to go back to his tower and instead Steve had made friends with all of them and had even convinced Winter to tell Steve one of his dreams. At least he hadn't forced out his biggest dream, the one that he doesn't even admit to himself in his head.

Steve looks over at him. Winter can feel the gaze but he doesn't return it. He feels unsteady, something that he isn't used to feeling. Winter prides himself on keeping control of all situations that he finds himself in and this is one time that he keeps getting knocked down. The worst part is he doesn't understand how it keeps happening.

"So, Winter, where are you from?" Steve asks and then repeats the question when he doesn't get a response.

Realizing that Steve isn't going to give up, Winter shakes his head, turning a glare in Steve's direction. "I don't do backstory, Steve. I'm not here to be your friend or get to know you, or have you get to know me. I'm here because you blackmailed me," he reminds Steve.

Steve shrugs. "Just trying to be nice. We're kind of stuck together for at least a little while so there's no need to be so hostile."

"Why don't you tell me about yourself?" Winter says, even though he had just said that he wasn't there to learn about Steve. Even though he knew that he shouldn't be, he found himself curious about him. Steve's face goes blank as he chews on his lip. "So, you don't want to tell me about why you're built like a brick wall."

It's not a question but Steve responds anyway. "No."

"And you're not willing to tell me about the people who visit you in the tower."

A cover falls over Steve's face as he shakes his head. "Nope."

Winter looks over, scowling at the falcon that was sitting calmly on Steve's shoulder. "And I really don't want to know about the parrot."

"Falcon," Steve corrects, just a note of annoyance in his tone that Winter won't admit thrills him. So, the man does have some other emotion other than happiness.

"How about the shield?"

Steve looks over at Winter. "Fine. We don't have to talk backstory," he snaps, walking a bit faster, as if in an effort to get away from Winter.

Now that was curious and intrigued Winter even more than he was. "How about this. Just one question." Steve sighs as he stops, turning around and raising his eyebrows at Winter. "If you want to go see the fireworks so bad, why haven't you gone before?"

Steve's face goes pink, his mouth opening and then closing. "I… Well… Look, it's not that easy. Winter, I-"

The words are cut off and the color fades from his cheek, causing Winter to turn around quickly, his own face paling as he sees Nick Fury, the director of the Avengers coming towards them from the tunnel, flanked by Natasha Romanoff and Maria Hill. Winter curses under his breath. He couldn't have chosen other, less capable agents?

"Run," Winter commands and Steve doesn't have to be told twice.

Winter expects to have to hold back for Steve but Steve keeps pace with him easily, even reaching the edge of the cliff before Winter. The curiosity will have to wait, he tells himself, looking down at the ground, so far beneath them. Voices still echo behind them and Winter is tempted to just jump. He'd survive. He just doesn't think that Steve would.

"Who's following us?" Steve asks, not even out of breath.

"Enemies," Winter says, looking up for any kind of rope to swing them across. He doesn't find anything.

"Winter!"

Winter turns so fast that he nearly loses his balance, seeing the two Hydra idiots that he'd left behind when he'd taken the vial. They're fortunately on another cliff but close enough that they still present a problem for them. And they probably have something to swing towards them. The voices in the tunnel are coming closer.

"Who're they?"

"More enemies," Winter responds through his teeth, clenching his fists and letting out a shaky breath, trying to figure out what to do. He'd jump but Steve won't make a jump like this. There's no way.

"It's time to surrender!"

Winter lets out a frustrated groan when he hears Wilson's voice from another tunnel, closer than the ones that had followed them directly. "God damn it!"

"Who's-"

"Shut up and let me think," Winter snaps, looking over at Steve. "Assume everybody around us are enemies for the time being. We've gotta get out of here."

Steve blinks at him, his brows furrowing. "Okay? Hold on. Take this," Steve pulls the shield off his back, handing it over to Winter reluctantly. Right now, Winter probably needs it more than him. On his shoulder, Redwing is fluttering his wings and Steve reaches up a hand to pet down his head gently. "Calm down, Redwing. It's okay."

Winter frowns down at the shield, not needing it as much as Steve had thought, although he appreciates the gesture. Steve backs up and then takes a running leap, hitting the other cliff and not stopping. "Holy-" Winter mumbles, unable to finish since Wilson is upon him.

Since the shield is in his hand, Winter uses it, throwing it towards Wilson in an arc, grabbing it when it comes towards him again. His throw had been off but Wilson was still knocked backwards, groaning in pain and Winter grabs the shield out of the air. "I've gotta get me one of these," Winter says to himself, holding onto the shield as he turns around.

Steve is at least three cliffs away. "Hold on. I can make you a bridge," Steve says as he grabs a long piece of wood that's obviously for the dam, judging by the sound of flowing water around them.

Winter scoffs, making sure that he has a firm hold on the shield and taking a running jump. The admiring look on Steve's face isn't missed, even as Winter doesn't hesitate, jumping until he reaches the cliff that Steve's on, just as the three Avengers come running out of the tunnel they had recently been in.

"How?" Steve asks, not able to articulate any other words.

"Shut up and jump," Winter says. He has no idea what possesses him to do it but he holds out his hand, seeing another tunnel below them that hopefully holds a route for them to get through.

Steve doesn’t falter as he puts his hand in Winter's and they both jump. An intense pain from his side makes Winter think that they had miscalculated their jump then he realizes that Wilson has… wings and just barreled into them.

A loud screech from Redwing makes Winter realize that they're going the other direction now, forced to the right by Wilson's hit.

The fluttering of feathers prevents Winter from seeing the wood that they're bumping into until it's too late and then Steve's body is pressed to his and they're both falling to the rocks below.

"Don't move!" Wilson yells from above them.

Steve's body is hard underneath Winter's and the other man groans in pain, his eyes closed. "Come on. We've gotta go," Winter says, looking up and cursing as he sees that they had flown straight into the supports for the dam and water is rushing at them.

Wilson seems to realize this, diving towards them quickly but Winter is hauling Steve to his feet and running towards the tunnel that they had seen.

"Stop!" Wilson yells, his tone more worried this time.

But Winter's never been one to shy away from impossible odds and he keeps running, holding Steve's hand in a vice-like grip to keep the other man with him. The sound of his heart pumping and the water rushing fill his ears and then there's darkness as the cave collapses behind them, cutting off Wilson's voice, calling for them to stop before they drown.

"Maybe this was a bad idea," Steve whispers as water fills the cave floor under them.

"Shut up," Winter snaps, squeezing Steve's hand hard enough that he's surprised he's not breaking bones. "Come on."

Steve doesn't wait, simply takes off running with him.

Chapter Text

Winter doesn't think about the fact that he's still holding Steve's hand as they run, the water getting deeper and harder to run through. He just knows that they need to get through the tunnel, ignoring the fact that if there was a way out then the water likely wouldn't be filling up as fast as it was.

They run until they nearly hit the wall in front of them, both stopping just in time. Steve's breathing picks up next to him, the water at their waists, the bird on his shoulder deathly quiet.

"Winter…" Steve whispers but Winter shakes his head jerkily, grabbing Steve's hand.

"Climb," he tells him, bodily pushing Steve up the slatted rocks that make up the wall that's stopping them from escaping the cave. Steve doesn't seem happy to be moving but he does, standing on the tallest rock that they can and then Winter climbs onto the one next to them.

As soon as he's solidly on one of the rocks, he turns to the wall, up to see the support that the ceiling has and then punches the rock with his metal arm. The entire cavern seems to shake, making Winter grit his teeth. He doesn't want to cause a cave-in around them but there's no other choice. If they don't then they drown.

At his side, Steve covers his face with his hands, obviously on the verge of a panic attack and Winter keeps punching at the wall. A few cracks appear but there's layers of rocks and Winter knows that once the water gets much higher that he won't be able to punch any longer. He gets increasingly frantic, cursing loudly because the rock isn’t giving fast enough

"Winter. Winter!" Steve says, his voice rising to get the other man's attention. Winter looks over at him, the water already making it hard for Winter to punch with any kind of strength. It occurs to Winter, a stray thought, that he's never met anybody that he'd rather die with than the sweet, strong, gorgeous man in front of him. "I'm sorry."

Winter shakes his head, not sure that he heard him right. "What?"

"I'm sorry. I'm sorry I got you into this. It's all my fault. They were right. I should've just stayed in my tower," Steve says, looking at the water below them as Redwing flutters above them. His voice breaks and Winter's struck by an urge to comfort him. "I'm so sorry, Winter."

"Bucky," Winter interrupts, letting out a shaky breath as he has to lift up his head so that he can speak around the water. Steve looks confused and Winter shrugs. "James Buchanan Barnes, Bucky. That's my real name. I thought somebody should know."

Steve can't help but let out a choked sound at that, the thought that they were going to die. Winter feels a surge of anger. He doesn't want to die like this. He turns to the wall, kicking his legs to push himself up towards the wall and then punching harder. The cavern shakes even more, cracks appearing but Winter knows that it's not going to be enough.

At his side, Steve stiffens and then he shakes his head. "What am I doing? This shield. It's made of-" He's cut off by the water but he pulls it off his back and then wedges it into one of the cracks. Winter can just barely see the way that Steve's muscles bulge at his side, using all of his strength to shove the shield into the rocks.

Realizing what he's doing, Winter joins him. His entire body strains, knowing that this is a life or death situation and he gasps, his lungs filling with water as the wall collapses. He's aware of Steve grabbing the bird, wrapping him in his shirt and then they're falling into a body of water below them.

Winter coughs, choking on the water that he had inhaled as they both swim towards the shore. They're thankfully close to it, both of them collapsing onto the ground and Winter lays his head against the dirt, not sure that he can move. Redwing screeches a few times, fluttering his wings and hopping around in front of them and, at his side, Steve starts laughing.

"What… the fuck… do you find funny?" Winter breathes, lifting up his head only long enough to face him then dropping it back into the now mud.

"I don't know," Steve admits, the grin lighting up his face and making him look like the sun. "I don't know. But we're alive! We're alive and this adventure is… not what I had planned on but… Thank you."

Winter shakes his head, deciding that this is one man that he will never be able to understand, no matter how curious that he is. After a few minutes, the cold begins to seep into Winter's body and he reluctantly stands up, moving towards the woods.

"Wait for me!" Steve says, attempting to scramble to his feet but Winter shakes his head.

"I'm just grabbing some wood for a fire. I don't want to walk any more. We can camp here. Town is close. We can leave at dawn and be there in only a few hours," Winter tells him. "Dry your pigeon."

Winter glances back at him in time to see the small smile on Steve's lips that makes the cold seem inconsequential. He tells himself that lusting after the man that he's escorting, the man that's blackmailing him, is a very bad idea and he's mostly convinced himself by the time that he's gathered enough wood for the fire.

Then he comes back and Steve's shirtless, his shirt laying across a large log and Steve's muscles are defined as he moves to set another one next to it. Winter swallows hard, blinking as Steve turns to him. "Oh, you're back. I made a circle for the fire and got us a few things to sit on. Not exactly comfortable but good enough, right?"

Winter has to turn away from Steve, moving around the logs before he can respond verbally. His tongue feels tied and he tells himself that it's only because he had just almost died. That's the only reason that he's so affected. Anybody would want a good time in bed after that, right? Has to be all the adrenaline. "Yeah. Great," Winter says abruptly.

He can practically feel Steve's confusion over the dismissal but he takes his time as he sets the logs up for the fire and then lights it using an old trick to catch the last remaining strains of light from the setting sun.

When the fire is lit, he moves to sit down on one of the logs, keeping all of his clothes on, thank you. Steve sits down on the log next to him, looking over at him. "So… Bucky, huh?"

Winter sighs, regretting the fact that he'd blurted that out the way that he had. "I only told you that because I thought that we were going to die."

"Well I like it better than Winter. Winter makes you sound so… inhuman. It just doesn't seem like your name," Steve says slowly, as if he's working through something in his mind. Winter stays silent because he's thought the same thing himself a few times, not that he's going to admit it. "Why Winter? Why'd you change your name?"

"Why haven't you gone to see the fireworks?" Winter counters, turning to look at Steve.

The other man meets his gaze head-on and they're at an impasse for a moment before Steve shrugs. "I'll answer that if you answer my question."

Winter is tempted to ignore him but Steve already knows his real name and after he returns Steve to his tower they're never going to see each other again. What does it matter? He tries to figure out how exactly he's going to start the story, feeling his heart ache the way that it always does when he thinks about his family.

"It's a bit of a downer, the story of my life," Winter says, his lips twisting into a cynical sneer, his favorite defense mechanism.

Steve hesitates before he moves towards him, sitting down next to him and moving close enough that Winter can feel the heat from his body. It makes his heart pound so hard that it hurts. "I want to know."

"My father died when I was a toddler, around the time that my sister was born. And then when I was 12 my mother and my sister died in an accident. That accident is where I lost my arm. I, uh, had no other family so I went into an orphanage. That was where HYDRA found me. They, um, needed people to…" Winter doesn't want to go into specifics. He's never been ashamed of the job that he's done. He has nobody else and HYDRA didn't give him much of a choice when he's been with them since he was a child. He doesn't want to tell Steve, though. "They needed me. And I had nobody else. They fit me with the mechanical arm to work better. Bucky Barnes died with HYDRA and I became the Winter Soldier. It's not really a name but… they didn't want me to use Bucky anymore so I became Winter."

Steve looks sad, the way that Winter had known that he would look and he feels a pain deep in his own chest. He hates thinking about his own circumstances. It's so much easier for him to just go through the motions. What other choice does he have? "I'm sorry. I don't… have any family either."

That doesn't make sense and Winter frowns. "I thought you lived in the tower with your family?"

"No… I actually live by myself in the tower. I don't have a family. I never have. I… wasn't born. I was made in a HYDRA factory."

Winter turns bodily towards him, feeling as if everything that he knows about Steve has just been erased. "What?"

Steve looks down at the fire, his fingers itching at his jeans. "HYDRA needed a super-soldier to help the world regain order. That's me. They worked for years to perfect their experiments and then they made me. I've been training my whole life to help people. But HYDRA won't let me complete my mission. They say that I'm still not ready."

"You were made in a factory?" Winter asks slowly, the words tasting bitter in his mouth. Steve nods and Winter reaches out, grabbing one of Steve's hands. Suddenly the term ‘day of my creation’ makes much more sense when Winter had just thought it was a figure of speech. "That makes no sense."

Steve's gaze darts towards their hands and then back up at Winter's eyes. "It is what it is. I can't change it. It's all I've ever known. It's everything they've ever told me. It's why I'm so strong and I can jump and do everything that I can."

Winter can only shake his head and he moves both of their hands up, resting against Steve's chest and they can both feel the steady beating of their hearts underneath Steve's palm. "Do you feel that?"

"I-"

"It's your heart. That's not artificial, Steve. You weren't made in a factory. HYDRA can’t do that. You were born somehow. You're human."

Steve jerks back, standing up and gritting his teeth. "You don't know me. You don't know anything about me. I'm not a human. I'm not a person. All I am is just a super-soldier for war to help people."

Winter stands up, stepping towards him and he grabs Steve's wrists when he tries to pull away. There's some underlying sadness on Steve's face and Winter's never felt so much compassion towards another person before. He knows that he might be wrong but, how could he? He knows that HYDRA doesn't have that kind of scientific knowledge. Winter’s been with them his whole life. "That's not all you are, Steve. You have emotions, feelings, don't you? You're kind and you have a pet falcon you care about and... You really believe what HYDRA told you."

Indecision passes over Steve's features, and he looks confused by Winter's words. "Why would they lie to me?"

"Steve-" They both look up as they hear the crunch of branches and Winter looks back at him. "Stay here. I'm going to go investigate and get some more firewood. You have your shield, right?"

Steve nods and Winter reluctantly let’s go of his wrists, hesitating only a moment before turning away towards the woods. "Hey," Steve says, making Winter look back at him. "I like Bucky Barnes a lot better than Winter."

Winter's lips twist, sadness filling him again. "You'd be the only one," Winter responds and then he takes off.

Letting out a shaky breath, Steve sits down, preparing to think about what Winter had told him. Before he can even begin his contemplation, he hears deliberate footsteps and he jumps up, holding his shield out in front of him.

"Well if it isn't HYDRA's super-soldier gone rogue."

Steve lowers his shield a few inches. "Rumlow," Steve breathes, not sure what to think as Brock Rumlow crosses his arms, leaning casually against the tree. He doesn't recognize any anger on the man's face but he knows that that doesn't mean that it's not there. "How did you find me?"

"HYDRA has its resources, Steve. They're all over, you know. We've known where you are the whole time actually, through those resources," Rumlow says cryptically, pushing off from the tree and approaching Steve. "Now, we're going back to the tower. You've caused enough trouble."

Steve shakes his head abruptly, taking a few steps back. "No. I won't. I won't go back to being locked up in that tower. I've learned so much about this world outside already. You all tried to make it seem like the entire world was just engulfed in war and it's not true. There are nice people-"

"Nice people like the assassin that you're with?" Rumlow interrupts.

"Assassin?"

Rumlow grins, an evil smile that sends a chill down Steve's spine. "Did Winter not tell you that? He's one of our best, you know. Not only a thief but an assassin. He's killed everybody from world leaders to children."

Steve feels sick to the pit of his stomach but he shakes his head. "That's impossible. He wouldn't."

"Think what you will," Rumlow says, not arguing the point. Steve doesn't realize that with the seed of doubt already planted that there's no need. All he hears is Rumlow's indifference towards it, as if it's true and he doesn't care whether Steve believes it. "Now, are you ready to come back?"

"No. I refuse. I'm going to see the fireworks. With him because he's…" Steve doesn't continue because for the first time he feels dirty for the ways that he admires Winter.

"He's what? He's here for this," Rumlow snaps, tossing a bag towards Steve. Steve catches it, his heart sinking as he recognizes the vial that Winter had been so concerned about when he'd first climbed Steve's tower. "You think that he what? Cares about you? You're a fool, Steve. Don't forget that you're not a human. There's no way that he cares about you. Nobody does. He's only escorting you because he wants that vial back, because it's promised to him. It is valuable. It's HYDRA's property but if you think that he cares about you so much then go ahead. Give it to him."

Steve feels tears prick at his eyes, making his head ache and he's surprised by the emotion that's rushing through him. It hurts, the reminder that Winter doesn't care about him, that nobody will. It's been drilled into his head since he was young but for a few moments when Winter had been holding his hand, when Winter had looked at him… "Rumlow-"

Rumlow scoffs. "No. I don't want to hear it, Steve. You go ahead and give it to him and then I don't want to hear it when he goes running off with the vial as soon as he can. But HYDRA will be here when you're ready to stop being a selfish child and want to help the world."

"Rumlow, wait!" Steve says and he steps forward but Rumlow has already turned around and is into the dark woods before Steve can think to chase him.

From the opposite direction, Steve can hear Winter, barely making a noise as he comes closer. Redwing flutters towards Steve's shoulder and Steve sighs, looking down at the vial. "He's here for more than just the vial," Steve whispers to the falcon, trying to convince himself as he stashes the vial behind the log, telling himself he'll figure out what to do with it tonight.

Winter comes forward with the firewood, looking at Steve as if Steve's going to emotionally burst. Steve wonders if Winter had heard before he realizes that Winter's probably still concerned about his reaction to the conversation around the campfire. "I didn't see anybody," Winter says as he puts the wood down next to the fire.

Steve doesn't tell him it's probably because HYDRA had made the noise to lure him away. He wants to ask Winter a dozen questions, about whether he really was an assassin, whether he was only there for the vial, whether he maybe could possibly care about Steve the way that Steve is beginning to care about him. "Thanks for getting firewood," he says instead.

"Are you okay?" Winter asks, going to sit down on the log and frowning at Steve as Steve’s leg starts bouncing in a nervous twitch.

Steve doesn't know how to answer that and so he just shrugs. "Tired," he says and that's honest, at least. After so much adventure he's not sure that he's ever been so tired.

"Do you want something to eat before we sleep? I can probably catch a fish or two."

Steve is hungry but he's been hungry before and he doesn't think that he can face Winter for much longer. He shakes his head. "No. Maybe in the morning." He doesn't look over at the other man as he finds a comfortable place to lay down. He knows that he'll have to say something eventually but for now, he just wants to be alone with his thoughts. He'll hide the vial once Winter's asleep.

*

Winter wakes up to footsteps and he jerks awake, immediately orienting his body so that he can protect a still sleeping Steve.

"You didn't think that you could get away, did you? I wouldn't move. Stark designed this and it's pretty damn powerful," Wilson says, his fist facing Winter and Winter can see the beeping light of some sort of technology-based cuff around his wrist. Winter doesn't want to know what it lets out.

Winter looks up, seeing that it's a little past dawn and he groans. "You almost killed us, you know. Are you going to apologize about that?"

"You're pushing it. Now get up. You're under arrest," Wilson snaps, all amusement gone from his voice as Winter rolls his eyes.

He can think of a million ways to get away from this situation but then Steve is stirring next to him and Winter feels the movements in his bones, the feeling of Steve waking up next to him. It really shouldn't affect him the way that it does. "What?" Steve asks and then he sits up groggily.

Wilson turns his wrist towards Steve and Winter growls, instinctively protective over his still half-asleep companion. "Don't point that at him," Winter says sharply, on his feet in an instant and taking a threatening step towards Wilson.

"Or what?" Wilson asks, his words slow and deliberate.

That's not something that Winter can ignore and he steps forward again. He's stopped, however, by Steve who jumps in between them, one hand towards each of them. "Wait!" Steve says quickly, turning to Winter, beseeching with his eyes. Winter groans, stopping in his tracks and then Steve turns to Wilson. "Who are you anyway?"

"Sam Wilson, Captain of the Royal Guard. You are aware that you're in the company of a very wanted man, aren't you?" Wilson doesn't lower his wrist although he looks less inclined to shoot Steve as he was to shoot Winter.

Steve hesitates, wincing slightly and then nodding. "I know but listen. I… Look, I-"

"Spit it out before I arrest you both," Wilson tells him, although Winter frowns when his wrist seems to lower a few more inches.

"Today is a big day for me and, well, I need him to not be arrested."

Wilson laughs, shakes his head. "Okay, whoever you are, you obviously don't understand what this man has done."

"I don't really care is the thing," Steve responds, making Wilson's eyebrows raise. "My name is Steve. And Winter is my guide to show me the fireworks because they're all I've ever dreamed of seeing. Just 24 hours and then you can arrest him. I don't care. But please… Both of you. Please?"

Winter sighs, knowing that he doesn't have a choice. He's in this completely with Steve, until they see the fireworks. He's already given up, knowing that he can't fight whatever this is with the two of them. So, he holds out his hand for Wilson, knowing that he's risking a lot.

In front of him, Wilson shakes his head, scoffing slightly. "You've got to be kidding me. This man is wanted for theft from the crown, murder, arson-"

"It's also my… my birthday. Just for today," Steve interrupts, not wanting to listen to the list of crimes. Although murder sticks out in his mind and he's reminded of what Rumlow had said the previous night.

Wilson's lips tighten. "Just for 24 hours and then I will be arresting him. And if he somehow gets away then I'm arresting you, understand?"

That means that Winter can't try to sneak away. He won't let Steve be incarcerated for his crimes but if he can get them both away… His musings are interrupted when Wilson puts his hand in Winter's, shaking once and then dropping.

Steve opens his mouth, preparing obviously to say something but they hear the distant sounds of bells. Winter knows that they come from town and Steve turns, beginning to walk as if he's pulled towards them.

As soon as Steve's out of sight, Wilson lifts up his wrist and zaps Winter with a blast that knocks the breath out of the soldier. "I don't trust you and I don't know what the hell that guy sees in you either. But I'm not letting you out of my sight."

Winter's eyes narrow. "Fuck you," he mumbles and then begins walking, knowing that Wilson meant what he said and won't walk until Winter does. He hurries to catch up to Steve, some deep part of him wanting to see Steve when they walk into town.

He's getting in way too deep and he doesn't know how to stop.

Chapter Text

Steve's vaguely aware of the fact that Redwing is flying above them, having left their view before they had woken up. Steve figures that the falcon is scared of the captain of the guard and he can't blame him. He wishes that Redwing was at his side as he enters the city but there's so much to see that it doesn't bother him as much as it might.

His entire life, Steve's been watching videos of the bad things that people do but everybody around them seem to be so happy. There's music playing from deeper in the square and Steve looks up and around. There's so many bright lights, so many people, more people than Steve could've imagined existing.

Steve glances back, seeing Wilson give Winter a nudge in the ribs and a smirk that Steve doesn't recognize. Winter nudges back, harder if Wilson's wince was anything to go by, and then he's jogging to catch up to Steve.

"It's almost overwhelming. There's so much around," Steve breathes, looking down as two little girls go running past, their hair braided with flowers flying behind them. They're giggling, their hands outstretched and they're singing a song that Steve doesn't know.

"The fireworks won't take place until dark. The town's yours. What do you want to see?" Winter asks and there's a soft smile on his face that Steve can't help but return.

Steve turns around as Wilson joins them. "I don't even know," Steve admits because where would he even begin?

"It's the festival going on right now, preceding the fireworks," Wilson says at his side and Steve turns to look at him. "For the lost prince. You know the story of the lost prince, don't you?"

Steve shakes his head as Winter rolls his eyes next to him. "It's depressing. You don't need to tell him," Winter says, trying to waylay the tale.

"If he's going to take part in the festivities he should know the important part," Wilson says, an angry tone to his voice and he turns completely to face Steve. "On this day, twenty-three years ago, the prince was born in this kingdom. He was sick, on the verge of death. The kingdom worked tirelessly but eventually, when the prince was 6, they found a man who could cure him. The man did cure him but… there were traitors in their midst. He was kidnapped. Everybody's searched for years but they've never found a trace of him. It's only the queen now but she still hopes that he's out there someday and that someday he'll return."

Steve frowns and Winter sighs. "Even more of a downer than my story, ain't it?" Winter asks and Steve has to laugh softly. "Look, today's going to be a happy day. I don't want to deal with any of that lost prince shit."

Wilson sets his jaw. "You're pushing it again. The lost prince is remembered every year on his birthday with fireworks. That's the fireworks that Steve so dearly wants to see," Wilson says, his voice cracking on Steve's name but he doesn't say any more than that. "Look, you two enjoy yourself. I'll be around. If you try to escape I will know about it. And watch out for Fury. He won't be as lenient as I am. He'll arrest you on sight."

With those angry words, Wilson stalks off and Winter grins, turning to Steve. "Alone again at last." Winter regrets the words when Steve blushes and desire shoots through him. "Let's go walk towards the square. That's where most of the festivities take place."

Steve nods and Winter stiffens but doesn't move his hand away when Steve threads their fingers together. There's no need for words as they approach the square, the music running through them. There's people dancing in the middle and Steve's smile could probably light up a cave.

"There's so much excitement!" Steve says happily and Winter can only follow, occasionally tossing a few dollars to stall owners. He buys them both cupcakes which they eat together, wiping sticky fingers off on red, white and blue napkins. Winter takes Steve to the library, showing him maps of different places, biographies of famous people who had lived before them and he shows Steve wars but also shows him how the wars had ended.

They're coming out of the library when they see the fight happening a few stores down from them. It makes Winter frown, the thought that somebody would be fighting in broad daylight like this and he's instantly suspicious. It's three men, two bigger who're punching a smaller one. The smaller one is obviously trying to fight back but he's not having much luck against the two powerhouses.

"Hey!" Steve is already yelling, rushing towards them and Winter groans, following quickly because he can't let Steve handle this by himself.

"Who the fuck are you?" One of the bigger men asks, smirking as he looks Steve up and down. The look makes Winter's skin crawl and he thinks about cracking his neck.

"It doesn't matter who I am. What matters is that you should probably try picking on somebody your own size," Steve responds, taking a threatening step forward. It's a testament to how big that the men are that they don't immediately run away.

Winter's skin continues crawling and the hair stands up on the back of his neck. Something's wrong. Something's so very wrong and his fingers itch. He wants to kill them. He should just kill them. There's something about them that screams danger to him.

"Look, pretty boy. Get your boyfriend and get out of here before you get hurt," the other thug says with a menacing smile.

Steve raises his eyebrows and then Winter is shocked as he punches, his fist connecting with flesh and Winter can hear the crack of his nose. Steve had obviously caught the man off guard and then they're both jumping at Steve.

Winter sees red. No matter how much he knows that Steve can handle himself, he feels protective over him, and he immediately jumps into the fray. The men are big but no match for them. Steve's shield is still strapped to his back, unneeded as Steve uses his fists to make his points. Winter has one of them by the neck as Steve knocks the other back and his fingers squeeze.

"B-Winter!" Steve says quickly, turning to him and he immediately steps forward, grabbing Winter's forearm. "Let him go."

"Excuse me? You saw him. He was picking on somebody so much smaller and they both jumped on you. I'm going to kill him," Winter says casually and he can see the way that the man's face turns purple.

There's something there, though. Something underneath the surface, some pent-up energy that Winter thinks the man is containing.

Steve shakes his head. "Let him go. We're not killing him. It's my day and there's going to be no killing."

If it had been anything else Steve had said, Winter would've squeezed until his neck snapped but he tosses the man aside. "You're an idiot, Steve. You should take care of your enemies when you can."

"There's also a way to have a peaceful resolution," Steve argues and Winter looks at him before shaking his head.

"Come on. I'm sure there's plenty more to see," Winter says instead, kicking at the man. He's sure Wilson is around somewhere and will take care of him.

There is so much for Steve to see and Winter wishes for the first time that a festival like this lasted for longer than a day so Steve could experience even more. He buys Steve a small flag of the country that Steve stares at for perhaps longer than is truly necessary before pinning it to his shirt. As Winter buys them more sweets for dinner, he's noticed that Steve seems to always be hungry and seems to devour sweets in a way that makes Winter wonder if he ever had them. And while they’re eating the chocolates, he catches Steve staring at a mosaic of the king and queen with the lost prince.

Winter's brows furrow as he looks at Steve looking at it. There's a certain resemblance but the idea is lost as the song changes and Steve comes running towards him, grabbing his hand. "Dance with me."

"I don't dance," Winter denies but something about Steve convinces him to let the other man pull him towards the middle of the square.

"I don't either," Steve says with a smile as they reach the center. There's a crush of people around them but Steve doesn't seem to be scared. Winter wonders whether it's because they're together and he can't help but shiver, hoping that Steve doesn't notice as he pulls the other man closer. The music is lively and they make up their own moves, laughing at their odd movements.

Winter can't remember the last time that he's laughed like this and he pulls Steve close at the end of the music, one hand holding Steve's and the other at Steve's waist. It would be so easy to lean forward, to press their lips together, something that Winter's been dying to do maybe since he met him.

He thinks about Steve, pink frosting from the cupcake on his lip, jumping across cliffs, so ecstatic to finally be out of his tower. He thinks about his mother and his sister and how it would be so easy to walk away from HYDRA and let Steve be his family.

"To the boats!"

Steve jerks back abruptly at the loud call and he grins. "Where do we get the best view of the fireworks?"

Winter smiles as he doesn't let go of Steve's hand. "Come on. I've got a surprise for you," he tells him as he leads him towards the docks. He knows from gossip around town that the boats hold an unobstructed view of the fireworks from the castle and he wants Steve to have the best day possible.

Wilson meets them at the docks, looking suspicious but Winter just rolls his eyes as Steve looks delightedly at the small boat that he had rented. "You can see us from the docks at all time. Don't worry. I'm not going anywhere," Winter tells him, surprised by how much he means the words. He doesn't want to go anywhere. He doesn't want to face the penalties for his crimes, of course, but he wouldn't leave Steve.

Wilson seems to hear the underlying meaning in Winter's voice and he nods sharply. "I'll see you after the fireworks then," he tells Winter.

"Come on, I don't want to miss them!" Steve says quickly and he nearly tips over the boat as he hurries to get in. Winter's hand on his hip stills him and Winter begins rowing when they're both in the boat.

As soon as they're away from the shore, Redwing joins them on the bow and Steve reaches up to pet the bird's feathers. "Where have you been all day?" Steve asks him and Redwing simply lets out a little hoot and makes himself comfortable.

"Probably terrified by your enthusiasm," Winter teases, laughing as Steve splashes a bit of water at him and he pretends to be scared. "You're lucky that I'm getting back on the water after our adventure in the cave. I don't ever want to be wet again."

Steve has to laugh, settling back against the seat and looking towards the rapidly darkening sky. His joy seems to dim at the sight and Winter frowns. "Hey… you okay?"

"I… I'm kind of terrified," Steve admits, biting his lip and looking at Winter in an open and honest way that Winter isn't used to people being.

"Why?"

Steve shrugs, leaning forward and letting his fingers dip into the cool water. Winter watches each movement, trying to read him and he's surprised that he's beginning to see him better than he had. He feels like he's understanding him better. "I've been dreaming of seeing these fireworks for 18 years. Ever since I came to the tower. What if they're not everything that I dreamed of?"

"They will be," Winter says and he knows without a doubt that they will. He hasn't even dreamed of them and even he's thrilled because he knows that there's going to be something special about the fireworks. He doesn't know what or how but he simply knows.

Steve chews on his lip for a moment. "And what if they are? What then?"

Winter stares at him, feeling desire and something else, something deeper. Steve's face is glowing in the light of the stars and Winter wants to be closer than he ever has to anybody. But then… then the terror fades as he realizes that it's Steve. He doesn't know him well yet but he knows enough.

"You get to go find a new dream. Steve… I wasn't honest with you."

Panic seems to flicker across Steve's face. "What?"

Winter swallows. "My dream. It wasn't to travel. Of course, I want to but… my dream has been to have a family. Ever since I lost my mother and my sister… I've always dreamed of having a family, people who love me. That's my dream."

Their gazes lock and Steve's attention is only pulled away at the first burst of lights. Winter doesn't mind, smiling as he sees Steve's joy. Colors illuminate the world around them and Winter has never seen anybody so beautiful. He could love Steve, he knows. So easily.

"This is everything that I've ever wanted," Steve whispers, low enough that Winter probably couldn't hear if he wasn't his own kind of super-soldier. "This is where I'm meant to be."

Winter breathes out. "Me too."

Steve looks over at him at those words and he swallows, pulling the vial out of his pocket. Winter's eyes widen and he wonders whether Steve has been holding onto it the entire time. "I want you to have this. I shouldn't have blackmailed you into taking me. I just... I was so scared… of everything."

"I understand," Winter says and he takes the vial, setting it aside without a thought. He takes Steve's other hand, holding onto him, the gentle sound of music wafting over the water and the fireworks flashing colors across them.

There's a flutter of wings as Redwing covers his eyes and Winter leans forward. He's going to do it. He's going to kiss the man in front of him and it means more than anything ever has to him. This kiss is going to be precious and special and important. Steve's eyes fall closed and their lips are just about to touch when another firework goes off and suddenly Winter sees the face across the water from them.

He freezes, recognizing Brock Rumlow and he knows that he has to face this. He'll have to face all of this if he wants a future with Steve. He can avoid the Avengers and the kingdom but HYDRA is much more resourceful.

Steve's eyes open, a blush appearing on his cheeks as Winter just looks past him. "Is everything okay?"

"What?" Winter asks and he realizes that he's still close to him. He pulls back, nodding sharply. "Yeah. Uh, everything's fine. I… just have to take care of something."

Steve looks confused but Winter is going to take care of this then if he can then he'll try to explain. Steve is silent as Winter rows towards shore and Winter pulls the boat onto the sand, grabbing the vial faster than Steve can notice. "Everything's fine. I'll be right back. I just need to take care of something," Winter promises and he can't help but reach out, smiling as he cups Steve's cheek for a moment. He'd much rather be there with Steve but they won’t be safe if they evade HYDRA.

Redwing flies to Steve's shoulder as Steve watches Winter walk away and Steve turns towards the bird. "It's okay. He's going to come back," Steve says, although he doesn't sound quite sure.

He feels even less sure as the minutes pass and Steve watches the darkness that Winter had walked into. He breathes out in relief when he sees the shadow walking towards him. "I thought you had run off with the vial and left me," Steve admits, ashamed of himself for doubting Winter.

"I tried to warm you."

Steve's eyes widen as he recognizes Brock Rumlow's voice and then he steps out of the shadows. "Rumlow?" Steve asks and then the words register and he shakes his head. "What? No. He told me that he'd come right back."

"He might've thought he would but he was relieved of his mission," Rumlow says with a shrug and Steve wants to hit him for how casual that he is when Steve's heart feels like it might be breaking. "The Winter Soldier is one of our best espionage agents. Only the best could be assigned to your case."

Steve takes a step forward, anger filling him at what Rumlow's telling him. He refuses to believe that Winter was working with HYDRA the whole time. Winter had been honest with him. Winter had told him who he really was. A little voice nags in his mind that Winter had told him from the beginning that he was working with HYDRA but that was different. "That's not true."

"Oh, but it is. He's been reporting your moves the entire time. How did you think that I knew where you were the whole time? By the campfire I tried to tell you, Steve. We wanted to see how you'd react outside of your tower and Steve, you did a hellish job," Rumlow says, amusement evident in his voice and Steve feels like the world has been tilted on its axis. "The vial was promised to him as a reward for escorting you."

"No… he said that he stole it from you," Steve whispers but he finds himself believing Rumlow. Why wouldn't he? Why would Rumlow lie to him? And if Rumlow was lying to him then where was Winter? Rumlow's words unfortunately made sense.

Rumlow shrugs. "He was told to tell you what he had to get you here. The fireworks, I suppose, were because he felt sorry for you. But his mission is over and he's gone because, as I tried to warn you, he doesn't care about you. Nobody does."

Steve feels those words like a slap in the face this time. He'd thought… he'd hoped… hadn't they been about to kiss? What a fool that Steve was. Rumlow was right. Steve had ruined so much. He draws in a sharp breath, feeling the pain all through his body.

The HYDRA agent laughs and Steve reaches up to rub at his eyes, determined not to cry in front of him. It doesn't matter how much he hurts right now. He'll be upset later. "Come on, Steve. We're going back to the tower and you're going to get some more much needed training."

-

Winter's mind is groggy and he realizes immediately that they've put him back into the machine that he hates so much. They've never taken too many of his memories, as far as Winter knows at least, but they change it enough that he can't remember things that should be important to him. That's why he's surprised when, as he opens his eyes, he thinks of Steve.

The last thing he remembers was walking towards Brock Rumlow on the shore, determined to get back to Steve. Before he had even said a word, HYDRA agents had attacked him, surprising him and knocking him on the head. Now he's back in a HYDRA laboratory, the last place he wants to be and he wants to curse.

"Pleasure to have you join us."

Winter scowls at Alexander Pierce. He hates the man. He would've killed him years ago if he thought that he could've gotten away with it but he's never seen Alexander when he wasn't surrounded by HYDRA agents.

"Where's Steve?" Winter asks, his throat raw from screaming, the same way that it always is when he wakes up from the torture.

Alexander raises an eyebrow and Winter can see the concern there as he looks at the scientist. Had they tried to take that memory from him? It wouldn't be the first time that Winter had overcome their stupid torture but they always simply put him back under until he forgets the way that they want him to. "Steve?"

"Yeah, Steve," Winter spats, struggling against the cuffs around his wrists. "Tell me! What happened to him?"

Alexander sighs, stepping forward. "Steve is back in his tower, where he belongs. He'll have to go through reprograming. We saw the fight that you two got into and he is much too compassionate. When he's ready then he'll leave his tower and be ready to save the world, the way he wants to."

Winter grinds his teeth together and he's never hated the man more. Had Steve waited for him? Had Steve thought that Winter had abandoned him? He goes deathly still as that thought occurs to him. "You told him that he was made in a laboratory. You lying fuckers."

That sparks a laugh from the other man. Alexander inclines his head and the amusement makes Winter furious. "Yes, one of the better lies that we've given him. It keeps him completely under our control, you know. That boy is powerful. He has so much power that he doesn't know about from the serum he took when he was a child."

Something about those words sparks something in Winter's mind but he ignores it. Right now, he's so mad that he feels he could set the man on front of him on fire and laugh as he listened to his screams. "He's not some toy for you to play with!"

"Oh yes. He is. And so are you. Put him back under until he doesn't remember his own names. Telling Steve about your past identity, Winter? Bad move," Alexander tells him and Winter flushes as he thinks about HYDRA watching everything that they had done.

Then he realizes that Steve is back in his tower, alone, at their mercy. And Winter is about to forget about him. He has never lost control the way that he does then. Anger propels him forward, straining at the cuffs holding him and Alexander's eyes widen as there's a crack. Winter doesn't get out of his restraints but he pulls them from the machine and then he lunges at Alexander.

Before he can reach him, there's the sound of slamming doors and they both look forward.

"Well. I didn't think the falcon was actually going to lead us to you. And… it looks like you have most everything under control," Dum Dum says, a grin on his lips and a gun pointed directly at Alexander.

Winter lets his fist connect with Alexander's face in something that is very satisfying but all he can think about is Steve. "I don't know how the hell that bird led you here but I have to get to Steve. He's in trouble."

Behind Dum Dum stand a large squad of the Howling Commandos. Redwing sits on Dum Dum's shoulder and Winter doesn't know how it's possible that a bird would look so self-satisfied. He figures that he'll thank the stupid bird later if he can just make sure that Steve is safe.

Chapter Text

Steve doesn't think that he wants to leave his tower again, even to help people. It hurts to think that he had been so close to something so special but it had all been a lie. He hadn't asked whether everything that Winter had said was a lie although he'd wanted to. Was Bucky Barnes really the man's name? Was he really an orphan?

Coming back to the tower had steeled Steve's resolve to be the best super soldier. He would make up for his own hurt by taking away other's. The fight outside the store had convinced him that Steve really does want to save the world. That day makes him think of Winter and the pain threatens to overwhelm him.

Steve grunts as the punching bag goes flying and he has to kneel down. The worst part is that Redwing has been gone ever since that day and he has no idea where he is. Steve is utterly alone with nobody to share in his misery. He can't help but relive that day with Winter. He thinks about sharing an ice cream with Winter, the flavor sweet against his tongue, every time he’s forced to eat the flavorless food they give him.

He thinks about how Winter had been truly interested when they'd spoken of far-off places and how Winter had sat close to him as they'd read books together. He thinks about how right that Winter's hand had felt in his and how Winter had bought him nearly everything sweet that they had passed.

Then they had danced together. Steve closes his eyes and he can just see the mosaic that he had been staring at and then he'd turned away when the song had changed to go to Winter. His mind flashes back to the mosaic again, the beautiful woman and the handsome man depicted, holding onto the lost prince.

The lost prince with golden hair and bright blue eyes. He'd been sickly then, if Wilson's story was to go by but he'd been portrayed as a healthy boy. A little boy running through the gardens, even though he was asthmatic and couldn't be out there very long. A doting mother who chased after him, making him laugh.

Steve can see it in his mind and then he snaps his eyes open. That woman… it was the queen but Steve would swear that that was a memory. He draws in a sharp breath as suddenly there's another memory. A bit older boy, being told that he's going to be doing an experiment. It's going to be fun and it will only hurt for a moment. Then he'll be fine.

It had hurt longer than a moment but Steve hadn't wanted to worry his parents by screaming and so he'd been stoic. A man taking him and bringing him to the tower.

Steve stumbles as he stands, taking a step back and he knocks over his chess table, the pieces going flying. "I'm the lost prince," he says. His hand flies to his heart, the steady beat making him think of Winter and what Winter had said. "I wasn't created in a lab. I'm the lost prince."

The door opens and then shuts, Rumlow appearing in the doorway. "Steve. Did you break another punching bag?"

"I'm the lost prince," Steve says, his voice still low, as if he's still trying to figure it out. But this is something that seems obvious, all of the pieces falling into place. It had been his mother’s face that had brought it all back. Suddenly he couldn’t believe that he’d ever forgotten her.

Rumlow raises his eyebrows. "What are you mumbling about? Is this about that damn soldier again because if you ask me about him one more time then-"

"I'm the lost prince," Steve says, louder this time and he meets Rumlow's surprised look. "Aren't I?"

A beat and then Rumlow laughs. "Oh, you've really lost it now. You? The lost prince?"

Steve doesn't believe him, though. He hears the flicker of doubt in Rumlow's tone, the way that he had responded too slowly for Steve to believe him. "Yes, I am. I can't believe it. You… You told me-"

"You were created in a bottle, Steve."

"Yeah, that's what you told me but it's a lie. I have memories of my family. I always thought that they were just dreams but the woman in them. It's the queen! And I'm her son. I have a mother," Steve says in wonderment. “He was right.”

He looks up at the ceiling, as if it's going to offer answers, and that's his downfall. Rumlow clenches his jaw and Steve doesn't notice the other agents coming towards him until it's too late. A jolt of electricity from a gun in Rumlow's hand rushes through Steve's body and he falls in their hold.

"You should've just listened to me, Steve." Rumlow almost sounds sympathetic as he looks at the man tied up on the floor. Steve is staring murderously up at him. His body is still twitching with the shocks from the gun and he doesn't have the strength to get up yet. The agents hadn't been gentle with tying him up. "You should've listened to me every time that I tried to warn you. Now you're going to have to go under some reprograming and you're not going to like it."

Steve's words come out choked. "I won't listen to you anymore! You're nothing to me! I'm going to find my family."

Rumlow shrugs his shoulders, turning away and towards the other HYDRA agents. "Take him downstairs."

The agents nod, bending down to grab Steve but they all freeze as they hear the sound of a voice from below. "That's not possible," Rumlow breathes.

"Steve! Steve tell me that you're up there! That you're okay!" Winter yells from below them and Steve lets out a delighted laugh. He had known that Winter wouldn't just abandon him like that. "I'm coming up!"

"Fuck!" Rumlow says, looking down at Steve and he clenches his fists. "Gag him and move him."

Steve doesn't have the strength to struggle as the agents move him away from the center of the floor and shove a gag in his mouth. He doesn't care because Winter is here and he's going to find his family. He'll ask Winter for his help. He's the lost prince so perhaps he'll even be able to get Winter a pardon for his crimes.

It doesn't take Winter long to ascend the tower and he jumps through the window. He's completely defenseless, trusting Steve and that's when Steve starts to struggle.

The shot seems to come from nowhere. Rumlow had been in the shadows and Steve yells from behind the gag as he sees the blood soaking Winter's shirt, the soldier looking down at the wound, confused, before he falls to his knees.

"No!" Steve yells and he struggles against his bonds. He doesn't understand the small smile on Winter's lips as he watches him struggle.

Rumlow looks at Steve, raising his eyebrows. The HYDRA agents around Steve are silent. "See what you did, Steve? This is all your fault. Let's go."

Steve stills as a few of the HYDRA agents step forward to grab him. He can't stop struggling, though, moving as much as he can. He gasps in pain when Rumlow shocks him again, his body going limp. They've done a good job of containing him and he looks over their shoulders at Winter, bleeding on the floor and he had thought he was hurt before.

They stop at the bottom and Steve looks back, laughter bubbling in his throat when he sees the group of men at the bottom. Now he knows why Winter was smiling.

"You're under arrest," Wilson says as Steve is dumped unceremoniously against the grass.

He thinks about first touching the grass and it seems like so long ago. "Redwing. You brought them to me, didn't you?" Steve whispers as the bird flies from Wilson's shoulder to Steve's own, beginning to peck at the bonds on Steve's arms. Immediately, Dum Dum rushes forward to untie him but Steve shakes his head. "Winter. Winter, he's upstairs. He's bleeding. He needs help! Please!"

There's a flurry of activity around him, Avengers and Howling Commandos alike working to capture the HYDRA agents that had been up in the tower and the ones that had been in the forest around. It's only a few minutes later that Winter is carried gently down the stairs and Steve, now freed, runs over to his side.

"Winter," Steve whispers, seeing that a bandage has been pressed against Winter's wound to stop the bleeding.

"He's going to be fine," the redhead standing next to him assures Steve. "Winter's a tough guy. He'll live."

Steve nods once at her politely but his full attention is on the man in front of him. The men half-supporting him have halted so Steve can have a moment and Steve suddenly doesn't know what to say.

"Winter again, am I?"

"I wasn't sure if you were telling the truth about your name," Steve admits quietly, reaching up to brush a strand of hair off of Bucky's forehead.

"I told you all of my truths. My name, my family, my dreams. I meant them all," Bucky says, looking at Steve. They're surrounded by people and Bucky is hurt but for once, he doesn't care about being vulnerable. He looks at Steve. "You were my dream. You were who I was looking for."

Steve lets out a choked sob and he catches Bucky's hand. "You were my dream too."

"He's got to go, Steve," the redhead says, resting a gentle hand on Steve's shoulder.

Steve nods, squeezing Bucky's hand once and then letting go. He hears Redwing let out a low sound on his shoulder and he looks up, petting him once.

"That's my falcon," Wilson says from behind them and the men again stop as Steve turns to him.

He feels defensive suddenly, reaching up to rest a hand on Redwing's back. "No… He's my falcon. He's been my falcon for years."

Wilson frowns, looking at the way that Redwing's claws dig into Steve's shoulder slightly, a reassuring gesture. "That's impossible, though. The only way that Redwing would leave me would be to go to… Steve. To Steve."

Redwing gives a happy little hoot on Steve's shoulder and then Bucky hits Steve in the back, making Steve look over at him.

"You're the lost prince," Bucky tells him and Steve lets out a choked laugh.

"I am. I know. I figured it out… shortly before you got here," Steve admits and then he turns to Wilson, who looks like he’s seen a ghost.

"You're not made in a laboratory. You're a man and you have a beating heart and damn it, you're the lost prince," Bucky says, in more awe than Steve himself was, Steve thinks.

Steve looks down at him, affection evident in his eyes and he presses a soft kiss to Bucky's forehead. "I am. And you have a beating heart too and we're going to keep that heart beating. So, you need to go get your medical attention. I'll be around, I promise."

Bucky stares at him for a moment before he nods and he lets the men carry him away.

"So… apparently, I've seen you naked," the redhead says next to him and Steve jerks, looking over at her. She grins, holding out her hand. "Natasha Romanoff. We were friends when we were little. Nice to meet you… again.”

-

Steve has his own horse as they ride back to the castle. He'd met most of the Avengers before they'd left. Nick Fury had bowed before him and the other Avengers had followed suit. Steve had been surprised when he'd learned that he'd played with half of them as children. The only one who hadn't said another word to him was Wilson.

The man is still silent, riding his horse next to Steve. Redwing had chosen to ride on Steve's shoulder still, something that confuses Steve but he's afraid to broach the topic. He's getting more nervous the closer that they get and he would give anything right now to have Bucky by his side.

Bucky had been brought in a wagon, though, easier for him to be transported through the forest without hurting him and he'd be there by nightfall. As they ride through the town, Steve keeps his gaze straightforward, knowing that everybody they pass is looking at them.

They stop directly in front of the castle and Steve isn't sure how he gets off his horse or to the front doors. He's stopped by Wilson, the other man touching his arm gently.

"Like I said, it's just the queen left. But she's never given up hope that you'll come home. She's going to be so happy to see you."

Steve nods jerkily and he can't help the way that tears fill his eyes. Wilson escorts him, along with Natasha, Nick and a woman who introduces herself as Sharon. They go through the castle, towards the back and Steve recognizes the gardens off the balcony that they stop at.

"I used to play out here," Steve says quietly, surprised that he would remember something so long ago.

The others are silent as they wait. It's merely minutes before the door is pushed open with force and then the queen steps out. Steve draws in a sharp breath.

"Steve?"

"I know you," Steve whispers, his jaw dropping and his eyes filling with fresh tears. The woman in front of him is already openly weeping, might have been before she even went through the door. Steve couldn't stop himself if he wanted to, drawn towards the woman that he is. They meet in the middle, their arms wrapping around each other and Steve never knew somebody's arms could feel so much like coming home.

The others are respectfully quiet, watching the reunion and then Sarah is pulling back, wiping her eyes. "How?" Sarah asks softly.

Natasha had told Steve the basics about his mother on the ride to the castle, her name, her age, a bit about her past and the loss of his father but Steve suddenly wants to know everything about her. He knows that he could never get enough time with the beautiful woman in front of him.

"Your Majesty, perhaps sitting down would make the tale easier," Sharon says and Steve shoots her a grateful smile. He's finding himself liking these Avengers.

For a moment, Steve thinks that Sarah is going to argue but then she nods. They get tea sent to a small table outdoors and they all sit down, joined this time only by Wilson. The rest have dispersed, claiming various duties but Steve has a feeling they just want to give them privacy.

Wilson is silent as Steve recounts the years that he spent in the tower, glossing over some of the harder parts like his methodic schedule and the rough training sessions. His mother reacts in certain places, grasping his hand, remarking on the unfortunateness of it all. Steve finds himself tearing up himself as he speaks, thinking about all that he had missed.

He's almost embarrassed having to admit that he'd believed them when they'd told him that he was born in a laboratory. His mother opens his mouth to comfort him but Wilson beats her to it. "It's only natural that you'd believe them. They were the only people that you had."

Steve nods, smiling slightly and continuing. It's not easy but he knows that his mother needs to know and perhaps he needs to tell her. He falters a bit when he reaches the point of telling her about Bucky, especially considering Wilson is within earshot, but he does. He considers but decides not to tell her his real name. He feels like that's a secret between him and Bucky right now and he doesn't want to betray the other man's trust.

When he's done, he feels exhausted, thinking about having gone through all that he did. There's a soft smile playing on Sarah's lips. "I'm just so glad that you're home," she tells him.

"Me too," Steve says honestly because he is. Even the idea of having a home is so novel right now but he's so excited, regardless.

"We're all glad that you're home," Wilson says quietly and Steve turns to look at him curiously. Wilson smiles. "What?"

"I don't want to offend you."

Wilson laughs, waving a hand. "Go ahead. Whatever you wanna ask or say. I won't be offended."

Steve considers, chewing on his lip for a moment before asking. "Why are you sitting with us? I know that there's obviously history with Redwing but… why you? The rest left.”

"I was wondering when you'd ask. I didn't want to overwhelm you. Can I steal a bit of his time to tell him, Your Majesty?" Wilson asks.

"Of course, Sam," Sarah says, resting a hand on Wilson's for a moment before picking up one of the delicious cookies on the plates in front of them and sitting back.

Steve looks curiously between them before focusing his attention on Wilson as the other man begins to speak. "We're the same age, you and I. We were apparently playmates, all of us. There were a bunch of kids always around the palace. I got Redwing as a gift when I was 5 and you took to him immediately. He's incredibly intelligent, somewhat magical if I had to guess. You were kidnapped a year later and everybody was devastated, of course.

"On my 7th birthday I wished for you to come home because I knew how happy that it would make everybody. Redwing is the only one that I told my wish and I told him that he should try to find you," Wilson says with a shrug of his shoulders. He looks down at the mug of tea in front of him, giving it a swirl. "I thought that he'd gotten lost or shot or something but I guess he did go and find you. I'm glad he did."

"I never realized…"

Wilson looks up at him. "No, you wouldn't have. It's fine. You didn't know. I'm glad that he went to you. I'm glad that you had somebody there. I wouldn't change that. I'm just sad that you had to go through the rest of it with just our falcon as your companion."

"Our falcon," Steve says softly and then he laughs. "We can share him. I have no intention of wandering off again so we can share him… Sam, right?"

Wilson, Sam, nods and takes a sip of his tea. "Yeah. We can share Redwing. As long as it's clear he's mine," he says in a jokingly warning tone.

There's such amusement there, a hint of affection. It warms Steve and he grins before turning back to his mother. His grin widens when he sees the smile on her face and he thinks that he could simply stare at her smile for hours and not get tired.

"That's enough sadness for now. I'd love to hear more details later but for now, I have a feeling that Winter has arrived and I'd like to meet him," Sarah says, standing up and the men immediately follow.

Steve frowns, looking up at the sky and realizing that he probably has gotten here. He's terrified, knowing that Bucky will be okay but also knowing there's a chance that he might not be. Steve doesn't know suddenly what he'd do if he lost the other man.

"You want to meet him? Why?" Steve asks as he follows Sarah into the doors of the palace. Sam walks behind them, two cookies in one hand and his cup of tea in another. Steve immediately wishes that he'd thought to bring a cookie himself. As if reading his thoughts, Sam hands one of his cookies over and Steve is so shocked by the selfless gesture that it's at least a full minute before he thinks to thank him.

Sarah looks back at Steve, a knowing expression on her face. "I'd like to meet the man who means so much to you. I've heard that he's wanted for a few crimes," Sarah says, turning to Sam who nods solemnly. "We'll have to figure something out."

That worries Steve and his mind immediately jumps to Bucky's safety. If he's going to be punished so severely that he'll have to leave the kingdom then Steve will go with him, Steve decides. Even if it will hurt. He's not letting Bucky go alone. When they reach the hospital wing, Steve stops as Sarah turns to one of the nurses, listening to her speak.

Steve draws in a breath when he hears that Bucky has been there a few hours already (how long had they been talking? Steve is surprised it had been so long) and that he's stable at least. "I want to see him," Steve says immediately. He needs to know for himself that Bucky is okay.

"Of course," Sarah says, turning to the nurse.

The nurse nods. "Follow me," she says politely, turning and they walk down the corridor to one of the doors. The nurse opens it and lets Sarah step through first and then Steve and Sam.

Steve gravitates towards the bed, seeing that Bucky is hooked up to an IV and is wrapped in bandages but he's awake and he even smiles when he sees Steve. "You're okay," Steve whispers.

"You knew that I would be. It'll take more than somebody like Brock Rumlow to finish me," Bucky murmurs back, reaching up his flesh and blood arm to cup Steve's cheek. Sarah clears her throat and Bucky immediately drops his hand, turning to Sam and then Steve. "Did you come to arrest me?" he asks warily.

"No!" Steve says vehemently, turning to his mother and he frowns when he sees the expression on her face. "Mom?"

Sarah doesn't speak, simply steps up to the bed, scrutinizing Bucky in a way that makes Bucky squirm on the bed. "Ma'am?"

"Your Majesty," Sam corrects from where he's leaning against the doorframe, arms crossed.

Sarah waves a hand dismissively and then she shakes her head. "What did you say your name was?"

Bucky's face pales slightly and he looks over at Steve, as if he wants help. Steve isn't sure how to answer, though, isn't sure what his mother's thinking or doing. "Winter, Ma- Your Majesty," Bucky responds.

"No. Your real name. What's your real name?" Sarah asks and she sounds as if she's underwater, as if she's choking and Steve wonders what in the world is happening. Does she know Bucky? Did Bucky commit a crime against her? The thought makes Steve wince.

For a moment, Steve thinks that Bucky is going to lie or otherwise try to get out of it. Then the man in the hospital bed steels himself and he takes a deep breath. "James Buchanan Barnes, Your Majesty. I was known as Bucky when I was younger."

"It is you," Sarah whispers as Sam straightens up near the door, his eyebrows near flying up off his head. "Bucky, it is you. I thought it was impossible."

Bucky turns to Steve and Steve shrugs, shakes his head. "Mom?" he asks.

Sarah turns to Steve and then back to Sam. "Tell them. No. Don't tell them. Bring them here. Just… bring them here."

"What's going on?" Bucky asks, frustration filling his tone and Steve reaches out, grasping Bucky's hand. Bucky holds on tight enough to hurt as Sam leaves the room in a hurry.

Sarah takes a deep breath, looking at the way that they're holding hands and a sharp laugh escapes her lips. "Bucky Barnes. You were taken from the palace a year before Steve was."

The laugh that Bucky lets out is loud enough that Steve jumps but he notices that Bucky is holding onto him even tighter this time. "Your Majesty, that's impossible. My mom and sister died when I was 12 and I was taken to an orphanage where HYDRA found me."

"I don't know how HYDRA changed your memories but I assure you, your mother and all three of your sisters are still alive," Sarah says gently, looking over at Steve and then back at Bucky. "Your mother is one of my best friends so when your sister Rebecca was born, we arranged a betrothal between her and Steve. You came to live with us almost immediately."

Bucky shakes his head and he looks up at Steve, an incredulous look on his face. "Are you listening to this? It's ridiculous. Make her stop," he says and he sounds so hopeless that Steve almost wants to.

Instead, he brings Bucky's hand up to his lips, pressing a kiss to a knuckle. He notices that he's flexing his metal arm, as if he's trying to keep his emotions in. "Just listen to her. I don't… know why she'd lie," he whispers.

"You were with Steve all the time," Sarah says, faster this time as if she wants to get it out. She keeps glancing towards the door and he realizes that maybe she is trying to get it all out before the Barnes family gets to the hospital wing. "You and Steve were the very best of friends. When you were both 5, Steve was sick with pneumonia. You were sleeping with him because you were terrified that Steve was going to stop breathing in the middle of the night.

"We think that HYDRA agents thought that you were Steve because they took you. We, of course, tried to find you but we found no trace. They hid you well. But now you're back, just like Steve is. It's like it's meant to be."

Bucky looks sick, his face paler than can be healthy. The machine that's hooked up to him lets out a warning beep and Bucky blinks, startled by the sound. "That's impossible, Your Majesty."

"Why?" Sarah asks.

It's such a simple question but Bucky can't answer it. Why would Sarah lie? HYDRA had shown that it was perfectly willing to lie about the history of a child. Steve feels guilt well up in him, the thought that Bucky had spent his childhood with HYDRA, simply because of Steve? Because they had thought that Bucky was Steve? It was Steve's fault that Bucky was taken.

Bucky swallows audibly, looking up when there's voices from the hallway. "That's your mother," Sarah whispers.

"I want you to leave," Bucky says, pulling his hand viciously from Steve's and Steve feels cold suddenly. Bucky blames him, of course, Steve figures. Why wouldn't he?

"Bucky," Sarah murmurs, reaching a hand out but Bucky jerks away, wincing when it pulls at the bandages on his body.

"They can come in. I want you two to leave, though," Bucky says and he closes his eyes.

Steve wants to stay, wants to help Bucky, but then four women are bursting through the door and Steve can't face it. Too many emotions, too many feelings and he half runs towards the door, moving past them. There's a spark of recognition on all of their faces but Steve just hurries past them. Sam is in the corridor but Steve can't face any of them.

His fault. It's all his fault.

-

Two weeks pass too quickly for Steve's liking. He gets to know all of the people that he had known before and new people in their lives. His mother takes up the most of his time and he finds himself taking long walks through the gardens with her, talking about everything that the two can think of. Steve gets to know what a mother's love is like for the first time.

Sam becomes his best friend again quickly. He's funny and smart and incredibly nice which is just what Steve needs right now. Sam teaches Steve about how fireworks work when he finds out that he's so fascinated by them and they accidentally set off a few. Steve knows he should be apologetic but the colors are, as always, wonderful to him.

It's somewhat awkward meeting Rebecca and the rest of the Barnes family. Rebecca is married now and she smirks when she first meets Steve.

"You didn't have to go so far away just to avoid being married, you know," Rebeca says to break the ice. It makes Steve laugh and he decides that they can be friends.

He finds out that Bucky is getting to know his family and it makes Steve happy, even as he's denied visits by the many nurses that are constantly around the door to Bucky's room. He wants Bucky to have his privacy but he wishes that Bucky would at least let him see him to apologize.

The Avengers are all crazy but nice too. Natasha is quiet, always simply there when he needs her to be and sometimes when he wishes that she'd go away. It's nice to have her there, though. Nick Fury goes over safety briefings with him, Tony Stark tries to talk to him about the serum that he'd taken and wants him to perform experiments. The lists go on and on and sometimes Steve has to retire to his room to get away from it all.

It's two weeks from the time that they'd come to the palace that a festival is thrown, celebrating his return.

Steve wears a thin gold band around his head, his crown. He's been enjoying the music, the sweets, but his thoughts aren't far from Bucky. He can't help but remember when Bucky had bought him the sweets, had danced with him. Now he only tosses coins to the stall owners out of courtesy. They're only too happy to have him sample their food.

Steve tenses when he feels the crown leave his head and he turns around, freezing when he sees Bucky, the crown twirling on his finger and a small smile on his lips. "Hi," Bucky says softly.

"Bucky." Steve had practiced so much to say to him but now that he's actually faced with him he feels lost. His eyes flicker down to Bucky's arm, wrapped in a white cast and Bucky follows his gaze.

"Stark and Banner have been experimenting on me. Since what HYDRA told me originally was a lie, I don't remember how I got the arm. They think that HYDRA has some technology in there that could be bad so they've been working on fixing it for me. I wouldn't doubt it. The arm is where a lot of my… strength comes from."

Steve nods, looking back up at him. "You never told me that. You don't have to tell me but-"

"I want to tell you everything," Bucky interrupts and Steve feels his heart flutter at those words. Bucky lets out a breath. "Just not right now. Right now, I wanted to apologize. I'm sorry that I kept you out. It's not that I didn't want to see you I just needed to come to terms with it. My entire past had been a lie."

"I know the feeling," Steve points out, although his voice is gentle. He's not mad at Bucky, quite the opposite. He's mad at himself. "I'm sorry too. I'm sorry that they took you. I'm sorry that everything's been my fault. If not for me-"

Bucky interrupts him with a laugh, reaching a hand up to cover his mouth when he realizes how loud that it was and he looks at Steve. "You really think that it was your 6-year-old self's fault that I was kidnapped by a HYDRA agent? No. It's your 24-year-old self's fault that we've both been brought back home and that I've given them the names of some of the biggest HYDRA supporters. Did you know that Brock Rumlow had still been working with the royal family until we told them that he was HYDRA?"

Steve nods since he had known that. He had sat down with Nick Fury and, during those security briefings, they'd talked about HYDRA. Steve had listed everybody that he could remember and Fury had kept him updated on the arrests that they had made. "I did. And I suppose that's a good point."

"It's the only point that matters. We're home now. And… we both have a family," Bucky says softly.

"I've watched a bunch of videos. I've seen albums worth of pictures. We apparently were quite the inseparable pair when we were younger."

The smile on Bucky's face makes Steve feel warm. "I'd love to see them."

Steve nods, looking down and he feels shy in a way that he hasn't with anybody before. This means a lot to him, he realizes. Bucky means so much to him, more than any of the others. He's grown to care strongly for the rest of them but Bucky means something special to him. "So, we survived all of that. I'm kind of surprised."

"Didn't you hear? Apparently, they gave me a knock-off version of that serum they gave you," Bucky says with a laugh. "Seems that they thought they might get their own super-soldiers themselves but I didn't work out as well as they wanted me to so they still had to take you."

Steve smiles slightly. That hadn't been the point that he'd been trying to make. He's nervous to continue but he knows that this is a risk that he wants to take. Bucky is worth it. "I mean, we've fulfilled our dreams. We both have families that love us. I'm thrilled because I have my family and I saw my fireworks but… Bucky, I meant what I said about you being my dream. I know that we have a complicated past and I know that things aren't perfect and they're going to be hard-"

He's cut off by Bucky's lips against his own. The kiss is everything that he's been dreaming of for longer than he’d even realized. He closes his eyes, pressing closer to the other man. He's hard and warm against him, his arms tight around his waist and Steve cups his cheek with one hand, the other wrapping around his neck.

"I know that we don't really know each other but I want to try. Because you were my best friend then and I want you to still be my best friend."

Bucky kisses him again, longer this time, and Steve is quite sure that that's his legs going weak. He feels Bucky's smile as Bucky is pulling away. "I meant it too," Bucky murmurs at him.

Just as Bucky is going in for another kiss, fireworks burst above them, making Steve jump. He glances around, seeing Sam and Natasha both looking at him. Natasha is smirking, her arms crossed over her chest. Sam is giving him a thumbs up.

Bucky follows his gaze, laughing and kissing him again as the fireworks fill the sky above them.