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we are not born for ourselves alone

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I

 

He had separated himself from his body hours ago, preferring to take shelter in the hollows of his own mind. He couldn’t exactly say when they had all left; all he knew was that when he bothered to check in on his surroundings again, he was alone. Or, almost alone. 

“Asset.” 

The voice was coolly distant, almost uninterested. He looked up from the cold, blood-smeared concrete beneath his knees, taking in the man leaning against the wall. He didn’t know his name, or how long he’d been there, watching, but he knew the man was one of his handlers, and that was what mattered. He hadn’t been there before, with the others. But none of them were handlers. Even if he hadn’t known his face, he would have known the voice. The authority. 

Rumlow surveyed the man in front of him with detached interest.

“Stand up. Let me see.”

The Asset moved on instinct, ignoring the ache of his knees and the scream of his abused skin. 

Rumlow clicked his tongue in annoyance. “No creativity. No—” he paced forward, taking the Soldier’s chin, turning his head, “—imagination.” He dropped his hand with a long-suffering sigh, stepping back. The Asset didn’t move, kept his muscles rigidly still.

Rumlow stood in silence, assessing, and the Asset was acutely aware of the predatory gaze fixed on him, even as his orders kept him rooted to the spot. He knew what he must look like, simply from his own inventory of the injuries. The cuts and bruises from his last mission had yet to heal, and while his dislocated shoulder had been reset, it still throbbed dully. The wounds beyond that had yet to even begin to heal, still raw and oozing blood.

“Seems stupid to waste an opportunity like this, huh, big guy?” he said, tone light. “Turn and kneel down.” 

He did as he was told, hands at his sides, fists tensing and releasing. 

Count. It’s easier if you count. Distract yourself. Drift.

His breathing quickened, aware of the movement behind him, of the rustle of fabric. He braced for the inevitable, but it didn’t come. Not like the others. Instead he felt a hand, thumb and fingers digging into the junction of neck and shoulder, smearing the grime off his skin. The was the pop of a cap, and the tell-tale flick of a folding knife snapping in place.

“Stay still. Don’t wanna ruin it by squirming, you get me?”

He nodded, sharp and shallow.

“Good.”

The flash of pain as the blade dug into his back was negligible, nothing he couldn’t tolerate. Rumlow ran the blade deep and precise, hands steady, a talent cultivated from field work. The Asset kept his breathing even, marking each breath, like keeping time. He heard the blade scrape concrete as Rumlow set it aside. His shoulders untensed, fractionally. 

He couldn’t see the smile, but he could feel it, a low exhale of amusement shifting the hair at his neck.

“Aw, we’re not finished yet. Best part is still to come.”

And then there was true pain. Burning, coursing pain, running through his veins like napalm. Distantly, he heard himself scream.

 


II

 

The slat wood floor was sticky against his cheek. Sweat slicked his skin and everything was… perfect. Every time his thoughts threatened to stray, something would bring him back, jarringly, into his body. The momentary prod of the baton was his only warning before another white-hot jolt of electricity shot through him. His muscles spasmed, and he felt more than heard the breathless sound it forced out of him. The scent of burnt flesh and sweat and copper were all he could think of.

“Aw, baby, c’mon, you tellin’ me you’ve had enough?”

The voice, syrup-sweet, was distant and fuzzy over the ringing in his ears. A hand slid into his hair, almost soothing, even as blunt nails dug into his scalp, twisting hard. He made an embarrassingly needy sound, raspy and raw and wanting. 

Steve had asked for this. Begged , actually, ignoring Brock’s surprise and apprehension at the idea. “I know you can take a lot but are you sure now’s really the time?” he’d asked. There had been something unreadable in his expression. Steve had ignored that too, and persisted, even as he peeled the last of the gauze and medical tape from his skin. In the end, Brock agreed. Steve was persistent.

He knew, deep down, he was trying to atone. And he was sure Natasha would have some pithy remarks about different types of self-mutilation, but it didn’t matter. His guilt ran almost a century deep, and no therapist was equipped for that. 

So instead he tucked his guilt away, adding to it every time he brought one of his friends down into the mire with him. 

But, God help him, he needed this. 

The mission had been bad. Worse than bad. Nothing had gone right. His oversight. People had died, even more had been injured. Including his team. Including himself. It was his fault, no way around it, and no fixing it. 

Brock pulled his head up, dragging him to his knees. His skin was littered with scorch marks and nail tracks and bruises. Everything was a haze of pain, twisting together with the pleasure of touch, rough hands alternating between hard blows and soothing lines. He didn’t have a sense of time, or place. The only thing was—

“I don’t feel like you’re really with me, Cap,” Brock said, voice silky against Steve’s ear. “You wanted pain. How am I s‘posed to give you that if you can’t even stay with me?” Brock let his hand fall to Steve’s throat, punctuation his words with a tight, precise squeeze, cutting off the blood on either side of Steve’s windpipe, dragging breathy, ragged whines from his throat. “I even brought something extra special, just for you.”

“Please—” Steve was faintly aware that his voice hardly sounded like his own like this, thin and wanton. 

“Aw, sweetheart, since you asked so nicely.” 

Brock pushed his weight away and Steve nearly choked at that abrupt lack of contact, turning, gaze unfocused, as Brock stood and settled himself on the edge of Steve’s bed. “C’mere,” he said, patting his thigh. Steve shifted, making his way to him, coming to rest at his feet. Brock let out a low whistle, lifting Steve’s chin with a forefinger. “Aren’t you a sight. Pretty stunning, Cap.” 

Brock ran his fingers through Steve’s hair, pushing his head to rest in his lap, face buried against Brock’s jeans.

“Now you’re gonna hold real still, and then you’re gonna cry real pretty for me, okay?” he said, hand firm on the back of his head.

Steve felt the cut of the blade, deeper than the other superficial wounds still scattered over his body, his energy too split to heal them all with any speed. He made a muffled choking whine as the steel slid easily through him. Brock made a soft sound, a mockery of comfort.

“We’re not done yet. This part isn’t the gift, sweetheart.” 

There was a pause above Steve’s head, then he felt something drip onto the newly opened wound. His brief moment of confusion was quickly whisked away in favor of a pain that forced the breath out of his lungs. It burned . It burned in a way the baton couldn’t emulate. It burned like ice water, flooding his veins. His muscles seized as he found himself sobbing, breathless, against Brock’s leg.

The respite came in the form of Brocks hands petting his hair, his voice crooning sweetly through Steve’s pain-fogged mind.

“Good boy, sweetheart. That’s a good boy.”

 


III

 

The first time Steve saw it, he felt sick. He wasn’t sure how he’d missed it before, but there it was, plain as day. To anyone else it might look like any other battle scar.

Bucky had been changing, skin still pink from the shower, making it stand out in stark, white contrast on his right shoulder, different from the ropy red of the scars around his left arm. It looked almost delicate, incongruous with the rest of him. He’d stepped forward without thinking, fingers brushing over it, carefully.

Bucky hadn’t reacted to it any more than any other scar. Testing, he’d said, they’d been pushing at the serum’s boundaries, wanting to find its limits. One of those limits was what would mark up a super soldier.

Steve had pulled up his own shirt, and shown him the pale, matching mark dug deep into his left shoulder. He was quiet, guilt coursing through him, shame burning in his chest. Natasha had explained it once, after everything, when Steve had told her. The compound Rumlow had used, some concoction of chemicals and metals, would stay in the skin, keeping it scarred. “The idea,” she’d said, “was that if you stalled the healing effects of the serum, you could get scarring.” The science was beyond him, but it horrified  nonetheless. It horrified him even more to know it had been tested on Bucky first.

All Bucky had done,though, was quietly slide his flesh and bone hand over Steve’s, a little smile on his lips, despite everything. “Guess we’re a matched set.”