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janie_tangerine ([personal profile] janie_tangerine) wrote2017-02-25 10:24 pm

cowt settimana 4 m3: would you lay right down with me, underneath the ground? (steve/bucky)

Maybe if only it had taken us one less hour is not what Steve should be thinking right this moment.

The problem is that thinking about anything else would be bound to send him into a fit of rage, and so it’s going to have to be berating himself for being late. Which unsurprisingly is what always seems to happen when Bucky is concerned - he’s always somewhat too late. He was too late in finding out what happened to the 107th (he should have insisted on going there in the first place instead of keeping up with the war bonds charade), he was too late on that train (if only he had been faster, if only he hadn’t needed Bucky to cover for him and pick up the damn shield), it took him seventy years to come back to the world, he was too late figuring out who the Winter Soldier was -

And now -

Now if only he hadn’t been too late to get to the same Hydra base Bucky had been targeting he wouldn’t feel like screaming to the heavens is this ever gonna end?

Admittedly, it’s not like they could have known. He’s ran into Bucky enough times since he and Sam left the States following his trail and realized that Bucky was going through Hydra bases scattered across Europe and putting them on fire in the best of cases. At that point they had enough intel to do the same, and it’s not like they hadn’t been planning to destroy as many Hydra bases as they could on their own. So they had started going for the bases on their own list in hopes to run into Bucky. Every time they crossed paths he always stayed long enough to join forces and then leave, but - thing is, the first few times he just left without a word. Then, he still didn’t say anything but he did look at them. A month ago he had actually told Steve that he remembered something, but he needed to figure things out himself. The second to last time they saw each other, he had told him that it still wasn’t time, but if he wanted to join forces, any help was welcomed. The last time they saw each other, he still didn’t come any closer to either of them but had told Steve not to be a reckless punk for once, and that was after he had taken out from afar an operative that had almost managed to sneak up on him.

So - fine, every damned time it felt like a stab to the heart whenever Bucky turned his back on him and disappeared into the night, but Steve had told himself that it was worth it. After all, it was only normal that Bucky might have wanted to sort his shit out on his own, and he obviously was well enough to do that, and he wasn’t going to take choices away from him. And it was working out, wasn’t it? Steve’s map of known Hydra bases that Natasha provided him when they left (sometimes he receives an updated version on his e-mail from a non-traceable address with newly found spots, or red crosses over places he’s already visited or that he hasn’t visited already) is red for a good two thirds right now. He had figured that maybe by the time every black dot on his map was crossed in red, Bucky would have been ready to stop and at least talk.

So while he knows that hoping for things is dangerous, considering how it’s been turning out for him so far, he had cautiously let himself assume that it wasn’t too much of a stretch. He had maybe been imagining the moment Bucky would look at him for more than five seconds and stayed still instead of turning his back and fleeing. He might have spent his fair share of time picturing Bucky asking him if he really was never going to change from the reckless dumb punk he used to be when they were young, and he had been picturing himself answering something like well, not as long you’re the same jerk, and he had been picturing maybe finally getting a chance to at least pull him close, and -

Steve might have done his share of daydreaming. Point is, it wasn’t that much to hope for, was it? Not after everything they went through. He should be allowed to hope for as little as that.

Turns out that he was too late and yes, it apparently was too much.

He doesn’t know how the operatives in this specific base managed to get hold of Bucky in the first place. Maybe they got smart and realized someone was after them and took measures, maybe they somehow knew Bucky was coming, maybe it was better equipped, maybe it had better trained soldiers. He’s never gonna know, not when he’s killed almost all of them and Sam is dealing with the only survivor, but that’s not the point.

Because the point is that they did get hold of Bucky after all, enough to - to -

To strap him to a fucking black chair entirely similar to the one Steve and Sam found in the bank vault belonging to Alexander Pierce, and undo everything.

And the thing is that they ran into the room the moment some scientist said the procedure is complete, so if only they had gotten here even ten minutes earlier -

Point is, they didn’t.

And now he’s standing in front of the chair, hoping that his frame is large enough to hide the bodies laid on the floor behind them, and Bucky is still sitting on it, his arms tied to the armrests, a fucking mouthguard still in between his teeth and staring up at him with wide eyes, tears pooling at the corners and looking scared out of his fucking mind.

Fuck.

Steve tries to concentrate on what’s happening behind him - he hears Sam asking the scientist if he can undo it and if he can then he should move his ass and work on that right the fuck now.

The scientist sounds scared shitless as he answers that if there’s a reverse procedure he has no clue of how it goes.

Sam curses and tells Steve to turn on the comm link, then forcibly drags the operative out of the room.

Steve keeps on staring down at Bucky, who is doing absolutely nothing. Not blinking, barely even breathing, it’s as if he’s waiting for someone else to act, and of course he is, and Steve should act, but he has no fucking clue of what he should be doing here. Especially considering that he just was mindwiped, and if whatever he tries to do ends up making things worse -

Christ.

“Steve, can you hear me?” Sam asks in the comm link, breaking that awful silence.

“Yeah, I hear you,” he answers, keeping his voice low, not knowing if even saying something out loud could trigger a reaction that might send even more shit hitting the fan.

“Right, I’m questioning our friend outside because I figured it was a bad idea to do it when both of you could hear. I figured that if he couldn’t reverse it at least he should tell us what the fuck we’re supposed to do now.”

“And what does he say?”

“Uhm. He started blathering about standard maintenance procedure, and I’m really glad you’re not here to hear it in person because I am finding hard not to kick him in the teeth, and then about mission protocol, and - listen, you really don’t want to know it. But he did say a few things that might help deal with it.”

“I’m not going to like them either, am I?”

“Nope, you won’t like a bit of it. So, it’s actually a good thing he saw you first.”

“Is it?”

“Yeah, because - he’s programmed to answer to his handler, which as far as he knows is the first person he sees upon waking up and who’s supposed to give him orders, so as far as he’s concerned you’re his handler. Or CO. Whatever you prefer. And it’s a good thing because had it been one of them it would be a disaster, and had it been me - let’s just be glad it was you. Anyway, the moment you free him of that thing and take the guard off his mouth, he’s going to ask you the mission parameters or something along those lines. So try to come up with a decent answer to that, because apparently the asset is known for erratic behavior when procedure isn’t followed to the letter, which according to this piece of shit means that he could lash out at you if anything that doesn’t meet the usual post-wiping shebang happens.”

“So - so he’s going to want a mission or something like that?”

“Or something like that, yes. Also, apparently it takes him at least half an hour to be fully operational, which means that if you give him a fucking mission, half an hour from now he’s going to be ready to kill whoever you point him at, but until then he’s just - probably going to do whatever you say without lifting a hand. Well, he’s gonna do that later as well, but you know, he’s not exactly a scary-ass killing machine right now, if you get my meaning.”

“Fine. And what should someone do in that spare time, according to our guy?”

“Er. He says - they did - factual maintenance if there was the need.”

“As in?”

“As in, putting clothes on him, giving him a wash if needed, feed him through some tube or with protein shakes or what have you if needed, and - you know. What you’d do if you had to make sure your fucking vacuum cleaner was in working order.”

“Fuck,” Steve swears under his breath, unable to keep it in.

“Roger that. I don’t think there’s anything else that our friend has to share. What do I do with him?”

Steve would like to say blow his head off, but it would hardly accomplish anything right now, would it?

“Do you have Natasha’s last contact?”

“The one she sent me yesterday?”

“Yesterday? She didn’t send me -”

“I do, then. You want me to call her and ask if she can come get this gentleman and bring him in before I meet you up at home base?”

“Yeah, about that, just meet up with her, leave the prisoner and come back here. We can’t exactly go back to a hostel now, can we? And at least there will be beds and food somewhere in the facility. Just come back when you’re done and we can see what to do.”

“Sounds reasonable. Well then, if you need any help call me. Oh, by the way, our guy here hasn’t said anything specific about it, but I have a hunch here and I think there’s one thing you definitely should not do.”

“What? At least I’d have something to go on based on an opinion I actually trust.”

“Don’t call him Bucky or anything right now. Maybe later, but the next hour or so he’s - he’s going to be… easily manipulated at best, and you really don’t want to plant any thoughts into his head that aren’t his own. Just - since he was remembering on his own before this, he probably will get back on track sooner or later, especially if we don’t send him out to kill people, so you don’t really want to fuck things up any further even if you mean well.”

Steve lets out a breath - he had figured it would be something like that. And it actually makes a lot of sense, and he so does not want to be the nail in the coffin in all the hard work Bucky has put into finding himself in the last few months. God, if he thinks about that he’s going to smash a wall, so maybe -

Actually, he could smash something, but not right now.

“Got it. Thanks, Sam. Just -”

“I’m on my way. You worry about him, I’ll be in touch.”

The comm link goes dead and Steve takes another deep breath.

Then he stares down at Bucky again. He’s still looking up at him with that lost expression and he thinks, if this is what he looked like every time how could they?, and then he decides that he needs to do something.

He swallows, then kneels down so that he’s not towering over Bucky and - Bucky’s eyes follow his without even blinking or looking at the scene behind him.

Jesus.

Steve reaches out and takes out the mouth guard, throwing it at his side in haste - Bucky lets him without a word, and doesn’t even lick his lips on reflex when it leaves a trail of saliva all over his cheek. Of course it would - how long has he had that thing in his mouth?

“Waiting for mission protocol,” he croaks a moment later, and Steve wants to cry. He’s saying it with the voice of someone tired who’s said that line so many times, it’s almost a reflex.

Steve’s first instinct is answering there’s no mission, and then he realizes it’s probably not standard procedure.

“Any missions are suspended for now,” he finally settles on as he works on the restraint strapping Bucky’s right wrist to the arm of the chair.

Bucky looks at him, then at his now free right wrist, then at him again. There are tear tracks on his cheeks and he’s actually crying now, but it looks like he isn’t realizing it. “I don’t understand,” he replies with a voice so small Steve can barely hear it, as if he’s expecting for him to - to punch him or something just because he didn’t get it.

Christ.

Steve moves to the other wrist.

At least they didn’t strap his feet as well, he thinks.

He doesn’t want to say something like it’s okay that you don’t get it, you will understand later - how condescending is that even? But he can’t take Bucky looking at him like he’s expecting a blow any moment.

Now if only he knew how to even call him, because Sam had a point before, but he can’t exactly go and call him soldier, can he?

“You didn’t do anything wrong,” he finally says. Bucky’s eyes go slightly wider. He’s still crying without even realizing it.

Steve is really glad he never had a chance to talk face to face with the surviving Hydra operative.

“Can you stand?” he asks instead.

“I’m functional,” Bucky croaks, but makes no move to stand or anything.

Yeah, functional. Like a vacuum cleaner, indeed. Steve tries to remember the planimetry of the base - there should be a living area not too far, if they reach the elevator. Which is on the other side of the lab. He can try to get the both of them there first and then think about the rest later.

“All right. Uh. Stand then.” He’s about to add please, but he has an inch that he’d only confuse Bucky further.

It doesn’t work. Bucky’s eyes become even wider and his lip trembles and Jesus, what’s wrong?

Steve grabs his phone and calls Sam again.

“Well, you didn’t last that long,” Sam says as he picks up, but it doesn’t sound as lighthearted as if could have. Guess why.

“I need you to ask a question to our man, if he can answer that,” Steve hisses into the phone.

“Oh, he’s not knocked out. What do you need to know?”

How does the whole thing usually go? I mean, what does the fucking handler do and what does he not do?”

“Wait there a moment,” Sam says, and while the call is on hold can’t help feeling Bucky’s eyes on his neck, and shit, he feel horrible, but if what he’s suspecting is true -

“He says the handler just gave orders related to the mission. The whole standard maintenance was for the grunts and the other scientists.”

“Okay. Okay. And tell me, was there an instance in which the handler did more than give the mission orders?” Because after all that’s what he did, right? “Like, for example, asking to stand up and follow him somewhere?”

“On it.”

Steve waits another long, long minute.

And then.

“You’re not going to like this.”

“I had this hunch I wouldn’t. Shoot.”

“Er. Well. Every time after he was malfunctioning the handler would tell him to follow him somewhere and… perform appropriate recalibration. Which as far as I can say, means that they wiped him first, then they - well, performed some of the tricks in the first fifteen pages of his file without him knowing why and then either they wiped him again or sent him off to kill someone. Is that what -”

“Yes.”

“Do I have to punch this guy in the face for you, once more with feeling?”

Please, do. You can do that thrice more with feeling.”

“On it, Cap. Good luck.” Then the call is over.

Shit. How is Bucky even going to believe him if -

“Do I know you?”

Steve turns on his back so fast he almost scares himself. It was so low he could barely hear it, but he’s sure that -

“Are - are you - the man on the bridge?”

Now Bucky looks like he’s about to pass out, and Steve -

He goes and kneels again on the side of the chair, figuring that blocking the way out isn’t the best idea, and Bucky looks down at him again, his eyes never leaving Steve’s and still looking scared out of his mind.

“I am,” Steve manages to say in a voice that is steadier than he’d have liked. “And you did. Know me, I mean.”

He was hoping it would help.

It doesn’t - at that Bucky stops looking at him and stares down at his lap, looking like someone who’s about to hyperventilate, and of course he would since it’s a Hydra facility and - ah, fuck it.

He moves to the front of the chair and puts his hands on Bucky’s shoulders, trying to be as gentle as it gets. Then.

“Please just look at me,” he blurts, and Bucky’s head shoots up again as if he’s completely flabbergasted and of course he would, who even says please if they’re your handler? “I’m not - I’m not Hydra. I’m not your new handler. I - I came here to get you out.” Not exactly the truth, but close enough. “There is no mission. And if you want proof, just - just look behind me.”

After all, the room is full of corpses, isn’t it?

He moves, and Bucky does as he was told, and he finally seems to register what actually happened.

“You did this?” He croaks again, still sounding like he can barely believe what he’s seeing.

“I did it. I was too late for - never mind. It’s not important.“

For a moment, neither of them says anything. And then.

“You were on a train,” Bucky whispers.

“I was.” He has to get a hold of himself without breaking down in tears. He can do this. At least until they get out of this room.

“I don’t understand,” Bucky says again, sounding literally pained.

Steve needs to get out of here before he becomes sick.

“You will. I swear you will, soon, but we really have to get out of here now. It’s all right if you can’t stand, I’ll carry you, but - just come with me. Please?”

Steve is almost sure that the only reason why Bucky gives him the tiniest of nods and tries to stand up is the please at the end - he startles at it, again, but then he attempts to do as Steve said and his legs waver dangerously and Steve catches him around the waist.

That’s when he fully realizes that it’s not just that Bucky is a lot thinner than he looked like under all those layers of armor, it’s also that he has a wound in his left side that no one bothered to stitch before they put him on the goddamned chair, and there’s a dark patch on the leather of his trousers that smells like urine, which isn’t surprising at all, but in between that, the room full of corpses and the fact that Steve himself isn’t smelling like roses he really is about to vomit. He tries to think of the planimetry. The living area was underground, like the lab, but the lab was the first floor - the showers and bedrooms were below. Third floor, if he isn’t wrong. Not that they risk meeting someone - Steve and Sam made sure that no one would get out of here alive after all.

“Right. Let’s go then. Slow, no need to hurry.”

Bucky says nothing and lets Steve drag him to the door leading to the elevator, but then just before they get out, Steve grabs the shield from his back with his free hand and throws it at the chair once, then twice, then thrice. The third time it comes back to his hand, the thing is in pieces and Bucky’s looking at him with that deer in headlights expression that makes Steve want to smash another wall, and - Steve doesn’t say a thing and leads him out.

He finds the living area all right, and picks the first room big enough with an attached bathroom that he finds, and then it doesn’t get better at all. Bucky doesn’t say a thing and doesn’t make one move while Steve gets him out of his dirty clothes and under the shower, and then joins him under the shower since Bucky makes no motion to wash himself or anything of the kind. He doesn’t protest or help or anything of the kind while Steve washes his hair and then dries him up, and he stands perfectly still when Steve first stitches up his wound and then hands him a pair of nondescript pajamas he found in the wardrobe and then dresses him up when he doesn’t attempt to do it himself. He just stares into nothing and that’s possibly even worse than before - at least before he was reacting.

And now Steve doesn’t really want to touch him or do anything that he didn’t have to do before - it’s not like he could have avoided it until this point, but that was the basic necessities. He should probably get some food into him, but who knows if he could even keep it down, and he’s not going to give him whatever Hydra would have because now the last thing he wants to do is doing anything that Bucky’s previous handlers have done. Also, the half hour that was supposed to pass between the actual wiping and Bucky being functional is long over, and certainly Steve is not dealing with a killing machine right now.

At least that.

“You don’t have to stand,” he finally says when it’s been at least five minutes and Bucky has been standing up, still like a statue.

No reaction.

Then again, it wasn’t an order, was it?

“How about you lay down for a bit?”

That gets him a reaction - Bucky stares at him for a moment, then immediately proceeds to lower himself on his back on the floor.

And stays completely still. Damn it. Now he has no clue what to do, because that can hardly be comfortable, but the last thing he wants to do is telling Bucky that he did anything wrong, considering the foot with which this started.

Fine. He’ll compromise. He grabs two pillows from the bed, then strips the comforter off it and - well, he kneels down and tries to hand them over, but Bucky looks at him like he has no clue of what he should do.

“Right,” he says under his breath, and then he moves closer and figures he’ll apologize later. “I’m going to take another shower,” he says as he gently lifts up Bucky’s head and pushes the pillows under it - they both weren’t the fluffy kind. “You wait for me.” He doesn’t add try to catch some sleep if you can because who knows if it was some code for cryo. Bucky lets him pull the comforter over him until it reaches his chin, with the eyes of someone who has no clue of what Steve’s even trying to do.

Steve figures that he couldn’t do anything more than staring right now and he has this hunch that Bucky isn’t going to move at all, and he needs fifteen minutes to lock himself in the bathroom, get a scalding hot shower for himself and -

And apparently also vomiting his stomach out - the moment he locks the door his lunch makes itself heard with a vengeance, and a minute later he’s dry heaving over the toilet after puking it down the drain. His mouth tastes foul now, and he doesn’t know if he even wants to stand up, but it’s not like he has a choice. He pulls himself to his feet, drinks some water from the tap and spits it out before grabbing a toothbrush and using it to scrub his teeth and mouth clean as much as he can. Then he sheds off his uniform, walks inside the shower, turns the heat on to the maximum level and when scalding hot water hits his back, he sinks down to the floor, puts his face in his hands and cries it out.

When he walks out of the shower twenty minutes later, he feels marginally cleaner and he doesn’t smell like either vomit or dried blood, which is good, but his eyes are red and he doubts that he’s going to be able to hide that he cried for a good ten minutes for at least another hour or so.

Well, nothing he can do about it. He rustles in the bathroom’s small drawer and he finds underwear and a few pairs of nondescriptive black pajamas - he puts on the largest ones and the shirt is a bit tight, but it’s gonna have to do. He takes in another deep breath, flushes the toilet another time, turns on the air ventilator and closes the door.

Bucky hasn’t really moved an inch, except that he was staring at the door and when he comes out of it, he breathes in sharply and Steve stops dead in his tracks - he doesn’t know what was that for but better safe than sorry. Then Bucky’s eyes go wide again and his shoulders seem to sag a bit under the comforter, so Steve walks over to the bed and sits cross legged on the ground in between Bucky and the wall.

Seemingly it’s a bad idea - when he sees him up close, he can see every single one of Bucky’s muscles getting tense again.

“What did I do wrong?” He asks, always in that tentative tone, speaking slowly.

“You - nothing,” Steve replies earnestly - why would he assume that?

“But - you were crying.”

Ah, shit.

“It’s not your fault. It’s not.” Tony calls the tone he’s trying to use his I’m convinced of this and you should be as well because I am and I know better voice, which - well, Steve learned to take it for the very much long-handed compliment it was, but he really hopes that it will work in that sense now.

“But then - I’m sorry, I -”

“You can ask me why,” Steve says, putting every scrap of force of will he has into sounding neutral rather than angry - he’s angry at Hydra, of course, but it’s not the point. “And - it’s a long story. But it’s not because of you. It’s more because of the corpses upstairs. And - please don’t ever be sorry for wanting to asking me something.”

“I shouldn’t,” Bucky says, almost inaudible, staring down at the ground.

“You can.” There’s nothing else he can add, and so he sighs and lays down on the ground as well.

At that, Bucky does look honestly surprised. He opens his mouth, then closes it.

“I’m not sleeping on the bed if you aren’t,” Steve supplies, figuring that was the question. “And I slept in worse places. No, don’t give me your pillows. I’m fine like this.”

“It’s not right,” Bucky says miserably.

“Then we can both use the bed. Or you can and I can take a chair.”

Bucky looks even more miserable at that, and - ah.

Well, since Steve is basically giving him choices, he figures it was too much too soon.

“Never mind me. We’re both sleeping on the floor, if we can manage.”


“I don’t sleep.” Bucky’s voice is thin. “Unless you mean - but the chamber isn’t - I didn’t -”

Fuck it.

Steve reaches out and puts his hand on Bucky’s left wrist, which is currently visible outside the comforter, feels the cold metal under his skin and squeezes it, not knowing if Bucky can even feel it but trying can’t hurt.

“I don’t mean it like that. No one is going into cryo least of all you, and you don’t have to sleep if you don’t want to or you can’t. Just - just lay down here for the next few hours. Sounds doable? You’re doing great for now.”

He’s about to say you can keep watch on the door, but if there’s someone who should do that in between the two of them it’s him. Also he hasn’t even locked the door, what smart thinking, but who knows what Bucky could assume if he did that. Also, the base should be free of Hydra agents and if it’s not - well, he doubts he’s gonna manage some sleep for himself, so he just sits back up, reaching for the light switch -

And he feels Bucky go tense at once.

He doesn’t turn off the light and lowers himself back on the floor. He keeps his hand where it is and he really doesn’t know what to do with the staring contest he and Bucky seem to be having.

He closes his eyes, just to see what happens.

He opens them again a few minutes later, and - Bucky has them closed as well, but it’s obvious he’s still plenty awake from the way he’s breathing. He was copying the motions, obviously, and he’s not opening his eyes again because of course, how would he know Steve has opened his own again?

Steve doesn’t even bother wiping the few tears escaping his traitorous lids again. He swallows, moves slightly closer and ponders what he’s about to do for a moment, then decides that over-thinking it is useless. He reaches out with his free hand and runs his fingers lightly through Bucky’s still damp hair, waiting for a reaction, and - Bucky visibly shivers, for a moment, but then his shoulders relax an inch. Steve repeats the motion and his shoulders lose a bit more tension, and he still isn’t opening his eyes.

“You don’t have to keep your eyes closed if you aren’t sleeping.” Especially if you didn’t want me to turn off the light.

Bucky’s eyes shoot open at once, meeting Steve’s - well, as far as showing some emotion it’s better than before. It’s just about the only thing, though - what he can see for sure is a great lot of confusion. He can see a line scrunching in the middle of Bucky’s forehead, as if he’s really putting some effort into figuring this out, and he’s itching to smooth it out, but - not now. Never mind that his lower lip is visibly trembling on top of it.

Now he doesn’t even know if he should stop or not, and if he asks he knows he’s not going to get an answer.

Then he feels Bucky’s left hand twitch under his fingers and lets it go at once - Bucky’s eyes go even wider at that, but he doesn’t move any further for a moment. Then he can see metal fingers tentatively reach forward before he stops and they fall down on the comforter again.

“It’s fine,” Steve says, praying that his voice doesn’t break. “You can do - whatever you were about to. It’s fine, I swear.”

Bucky doesn’t look any less confused when he tentatively, slowly reaches out again and the tips of the metal fingers run for a moment over the bridge of his nose. Steve keeps as still as he can manage as Bucky’s thumb brushes over his cheekbone.

Then he opens his mouth for a moment, but he closes it again at once.

“If you want to ask me something, you can.”

It takes another three tries before finally Bucky says something.

“You were on the bridge,” he croaks out. “And on the train.”

“I was.”

“You called me something.”

Ah, damn it. He’d have already said yes, I called you Bucky because that’s who you are, but Sam’s advice from before is lodged in his head and so he sets for a cautious nod without specifying anything.

“You - you knew me. How?”

Steve tries not to mind that Bucky has the face of someone who thinks he’s just done a very stupid thing by asking a harmless question.

“The same way you knew me,” he settles on. “You said - you said you did. Before. Back upstairs.”

“I did - but - I wasn’t supposed - they said I never met you before then, but - you were on the train, weren’t you?”

“I was on the train. And - well, I’m here for a reason, am I not?” Steve asks softly, hoping that answering questions with questions won’t be too bad. But if he doesn’t want to put thoughts in Bucky’s head what the hell is he supposed to do?

He can see the moment when Bucky puts two and two together, and -

“You - you’re here - you came for -” He seems unable to just finish the sentence, the words getting stuck in his throat, and his eyes getting even wider with panic. Damn. That wasn’t what Steve wants, damn.

“For you,” Steve finishes for him.

Why? I’m not -” Bucky starts, and then all color drains from his face. He closes his eyes, goes completely limp against the floor and bows his head forward. “I’m sorry,” he croaks again.

Christ.

Steve is just going to pretend the last part of this exchange didn’t happen and behave as if Bucky isn’t - expecting Steve to do something awful just because he asked that question.

“Whatever you think you are, you did know me, didn’t you? That’s why. I don’t - I don’t leave behind people I know. And don’t be sorry. I should be sorry.”

He strokes Bucky’s hair again, feeling him tremble ever so slightly as if he’s trying not to and can’t keep himself from doing it.

“Why?” He still sounds wildly unsure of even asking in the first place, but at least he’s doing it.

“Because I didn’t come sooner.”

Bucky says nothing and Steve keeps his mouth shut. He doesn’t know how long it is until Bucky’s shoulders lose tension for good, but he knows they spend an awful lot of time not moving and wide awake - he doesn’t know how Bucky doesn’t go mad while staring at the same crease on his shirt, but he’s not going to ask.

Finally, Bucky closes his eyes and seems to pass out of sheer exhaustion, and when Steve glances at a clock hanging on the wall he realizes it’s been three hours at least.

He should probably try to sleep himself, but he knows he’s not going to manage it and so he keeps on rubbing circles against Bucky’s scalp and watching the door.

In retrospective, it’s a smart move, because he hadn’t locked it, and either he and Sam weren’t as thorough as they had thought or maybe they sent someone from another base, and a few hours after Bucky passes out, he hears steps coming down from the hallway.

Very light - whoever it is is making sure they aren’t heard, but Steve figures they didn’t realize that the serum gave him excellent hearing as well. He stands up quietly, too, and reaches for the shield - he really should find a gun soon, not that he’d like to use it but it wouldn’t hurt.

He moves to stand near the door and Bucky’s eyes snap open - well, of course they would, wouldn’t they, but when he moves to stand up, Steve shakes his head and Bucky doesn’t even question before laying back down again.

The handle moves downwards. Steve stands to the free side of the door and the moment it opens, he slams the shield into the face of whoever’s coming in and he hears them dropping down on the ground along with something else. He moves back the shield to have a look - right. Hydra soldier. There’s a gun on the ground and the man is groaning and his nose is smashed, blood all over his mouth, and Steve can’t bring himself to feel bad about that.

Then he grabs the gun and kneels next to the man.

Then he points it to his head.

“Are you alone?” He hisses.

The man does open his eyes - good thing that - but doesn’t even attempt to answer.

Steve thinks he knows the procedure, and he’s quick to push his fingers in between the other man’s teeth before pressing the gun next to his temple.

“Now, I’m going to ask you again, and you’re going to answer unless you want me to pull the trigger before you can choke on your cyanide pill. Don’t think that I wouldn’t do that, because after what just happened? You can bet I would. Again: are you alone?”

He searches for the pill, finds it and yanks it out of the man’s mouth before pulling out his fingers.

“Yes,” the operative croaks out. “No thanks to you.”

“I didn’t ask for your opinion. Then again, if you weren’t, you wouldn’t have tried something so desperate. What, you thought you’d get the drop on me and pass as his new handler?”

He doesn’t need the guy to answer - he can see it in the way he stares at him a moment later.

Then he sees him open his mouth and turn his head to the right and -

Steve slams his hand over the lower half of his face.

Then he grabs him by the shoulders, hauls him up and slams him against the wall.

“Now,” he hisses, “you’re going to tell me all the triggers you were thinking about, and then I’ll see what to do with you. Considering that I have every reason to kill you where you stand, either you do it now or I’m not going to think any further about it.”

“Since when does Captain America kill -”

“As if I haven’t fought a war. Tell me. Now.”

The guy blurts them out - a few are Russian words, some others are really damned random, and then he says freight car and Steve sees so red that he doesn’t know how he doesn’t pull the damned trigger after all.

He’s still pondering what to do when he hears noise from behind him, so he covers the guy’s mouth and turns back to have a look - Bucky is standing just inside the room, staring at the scene and looking scared out of his damned mind.

“Right. I’m not killing you right the fuck now just because I’m pretty sure he doesn’t need to see any more people getting shot in the head in front of him, but I think I found a good compromise.”

He drags the operative towards the elevator and calls it, then turns towards Bucky again.

“You can come with or you can stay here,” he says, trying not to sound as angry as he feels. Bucky seems to consider it.

He steps into the elevator without a word and Steve makes sure to put himself between him and the Hydra soldier, then presses the button that should lead to the level communicating with the outside. If he’s not wrong -

Yes. The elevator opens against a glass door, which in turn shows a rather depressing view of a snow covered wasteland in the middle of Ukraine - the nearest large city, where Steve and Sam were staying, is Sumy, but Sam flew the both of them here and it took them a couple hours. They’re closer to the Russian border than to the city, and he’s fairly sure the nearest smaller town whose name completely escapes him right now wouldn’t be reached on foot before a few hours at least.

“There are some five hours on foot before you reach the nearest town,” Steve says. “I suppose that with a car it might take less, but guess what, my partner and I did burn everything with wheels outside the base before we came in. And inside as well. Now, I’m going to open this door and you’re going to start walking and you’re going to head there, and no, you’re not getting any food or water. If you get there, be sure that you’ll find a number of agents ready to take you in. If not - well, too bad I have your cyanide pill. Get lost.”

He opens the door, throws the man out and closes it before they can freeze as well - he stares outside for a few minutes until he sees him stand up on unsteady legs and head for the only path. There’s blood in the snow from his broken nose.

Steve turns back to Bucky after pressing the button for the third level again.

Well. He doesn’t look terrified anymore. But the confusion is still there.

“Sorry if I woke you up,” Steve finally says as the elevator descends.

“I heard you,” Bucky replies. “Before. He wanted to -” He stops and never finishes the sentence.

Steve can figure that out. “Yeah, well, anyone who wants to try is going to have a talk with me first.” Meanwhile he presses speed dial on his phone, calls Natasha and leaves a voicemail telling her to make sure there are agents ready to meet their operative if he ever reaches civilization. “Even if he manages to even arrive in town, he’s not getting away with it,” he explains as they walk out into the hallway. Bucky follows him back to the room without a word, then looks down at the abandoned comforter and pillows with something like longing. Then he glances at Steve before looking down at the ground.

“If you want to rest some more, I won’t be the one stopping you.”

“Can I?”

He wants to say, you don’t have to ask, but maybe it’s too much.

“Of course.”

Bucky gets back on the ground and under the comforter the moment he says it, and Steve settles for soldiering on and staying up - he’s pretty sure the guy wasn’t lying when he said the base was deserted, but it can’t hurt. He locks the door though - he figures that Bucky won’t jump to conclusions considering what just happened.

He doesn’t, and Steve drops sitting on the ground in the same place he was before, and for a few minutes everything is almost eerily calm - Bucky is still staring at someplace near Steve’s calves but at least he’s not too tense, and Steve doesn’t want to ruin the moment.

But then - then Bucky visibly shudders and his teeth clatter for a moment before he forces himself to stop.

Steve feels pretty fine himself in that sense, and when he stands up to check the room’s heating, it’s turned on at the maximum temperature it can reach. He opens the wardrobe, but there aren’t any more blankets or a second comforter.

“Damn,” he swears. “I’m sorry, I don’t think there’s -”

He doesn’t finish that sentence because when he looks back down at Bucky he sees that he’s raising up the corner of the comforter.

Not that much, but the invitation is obvious.

Steve swallows and sits back down on the ground, moving closer.

He wants to ask are you sure or did I understand right but he can hear a voice that sounds like Sam saying if it’s his decision you shouldn’t question it, should you.

“Should I get down here?” He asks, just to make sure he got it right without putting it as if he’s questioning the act itself.

Bucky raises the comforter a fraction higher.

“Okay. Okay, sure.” He moves under it, and even if he’s not touching Bucky, he can feel that he’s damn cold. he has no idea if it’s because they were outside or because of the temperature in the lab or because of too much cryo sleep or what, but maybe even if they don’t touch his own body heat can help some.

The last thing he expects is Bucky’s icy left hand to tentatively touch his hip. He stands perfectly still as it moves upward until it’s touching Steve’s face again.

“You called me something,” he says again.

“I did.”

How?”

Steve is going to have to ignore the part of his conscience that sounds like Sam, because he can’t keep that information to himself when Bucky’s asking directly and he’s… well, at least not cowering in fear as he’s doing it, even if he still looks like someone who knows he’s treading on thin waters.

“Bucky,” Steve finally says, not quite letting himself hope that it won’t go wrong. How do they call it these days? Murphy’s law? Because he’s starting to think that the principle could sum up his life by now.

Bucky’s fingers stop moving against his cheek. He goes still, almost eerily, as he stares at Steve and seemingly takes in the information, and the next few minutes aren’t the literal worst of Steve’s life yet only because this is not a life or death situation. He just holds Bucky’s stare and says nothing, wondering what Bucky’s seeing and not so sure he wants to know.

Then Bucky breathes in sharply, his lower lip trembles again and he moves a fraction closer.

“How else?”

“What?”

“You gave me some other name. Another time. It was longer.”

Oh, shit. The helicarrier. It doesn’t look like Bucky remembers that, though.

“James Buchanan Barnes,” Steve answers again. “It’s - it was the entire thing.” He’s about to say you always went by Bucky and when you introduced yourself you said we couldn’t be friends if I ever called you Jimmy or anything horrid like that and I never even considered calling you any other way, but that’s not what he’s been asked, is it? But then he notices that Bucky still looks thoroughly confused and realizes that maybe he’s missed a small detail.

Or maybe not so small.

“You know, I didn’t - I didn’t give you any name. It - it was yours. Always has been. I don’t - when we first met you went by that name because you liked it best. Just - you don’t have to use it because that’s how I call you if you don’t feel like that right now, or ever, but it was never my choice in the first place.”

“... It was mine?”

Steve thinks he could cry. Bucky sounds like he can’t fathom at all the fact that at some point in his life he had that kinda choice and yes and it’s never not been feels somehow too long - he knows his voice would break if he spoke right now.

“Sure it was,” he finally blurts out, and there’s another moment of dreadful silence -

And then Bucky shudders again, another cold spasm, and Steve sees a couple tears falling down his cheeks even if he seems completely oblivious to it, and then he feels wetness down his own cheek and damn it, he so doesn’t have to lose control here, and then Bucky’s eyes go wider than Steve’s seen them in the last few hours as he seems to realize that his face is wet. He reaches up with the hand that was on Steve’s waist and wipes the trail away, then reaches out tentatively and does the same with Steve’s, all painfully slow.

“How - it doesn’t -”

“What’s wrong?” Steve doesn’t even try to get a grip on himself by now. It would be useless.

“They said - it was a malfunction. But if you’re doing it - and you’re not an asset -”

Then I’m not one either, Bucky doesn’t finish, but Steve thinks he can’t be that far off the mark.

“I’m not and you aren’t either.” That should be safe enough, right?

“So what’s yours?”

What’s - oh.

“You mean my name?”

“If you’re not an asset - but - I knew you. I should know, shouldn’t I?”

“I can tell you if you want.”

They stare at each other again. Bucky shakes his head minutely. “Not - not now?”

“Whenever you want,” Steve sighs, moving just a tiny bit closer.

Bucky lays his head down on the pillow and says nothing. Steve resolves to just keep watch and noticing that there’s a switch next to the bed frame, he reaches over and turns out the the light.

For the next hour or so, everything is fairly uneventful. The room is silent, Bucky’s body isn’t that cold anymore but he still shivers once in awhile and he’s not warming up fully, never mind that Steve can hear from his breathing that he’s not sleeping, but the metal hand is still resting on Steve’s hip. Steve keeps his hands to himself, figuring that he’s not going to do anything he’s not asked for.

Then again, he doesn’t hear anyone coming from outside the room, so at least he supposes they’re alone for good.

He doesn’t know how long it’s been when he dozes off lightly - it had to happen after all, he doesn't even remember how long has he gone without sleeping - he knows it can't be much longer when he wakes up because of a choked sob that could only have come from Bucky. He's alert in a moment, staring into Bucky's tear-stained face. He's about to ask what's wrong, but then -

"Steve?" It comes out strangled, as if Bucky can't quite believe it himself, but - Steve doesn't even try not to cry at that.

"Yeah," he chokes out. "That's me. Guess you didn't need me to tell you after all, did you?"

Bucky shakes his head once, twice, then his left hand grasps at Steve’s wrist and grips it painfully, but Steve can barely feel it. He doesn’t know what he’s waiting for here, but he doesn’t dare move or do anything that might fuck the moment up. If he does anything wrong he’s not going to forgive himself ever, and so he just stays still and looks at Bucky and hopes that he’s sending Bucky some encouraging vibes at least. He has no idea of what’s projecting. He just hopes it’s now how fucking tired he’s feeling, even if he has a feeling that he should be a better actor in order to not show any of it. It’s just - this entire day has drained him and he only wants one good thing to happen today, just one, and this looks like it but who knows, who knows -

Bucky just looks at him and takes him in and Steve just wishes this had happened before now, because a week ago he’d be crying of joy just being with Bucky in the same room never mind this close. He doesn’t know if he dares hope that the universe throws him a bone here and doesn’t make things pear-shaped now or if he shouldn’t just stop hoping in the first place -

Steve, goddamn it,” Bucky says, in such a thin voice Steve can barely hear him, but the tone is right and maybe, maybe -, “I don’t even remember the fucking order, but did you really - were you going to fucking let me kill you?”

“You - you remember that?” Steve blurts, and now he can’t keep the hope from his tone.

“I - not all, or how, or when, but - you - you threw away your fucking shield?” That sounded - oh, shit, that sounded annoyed, as if Bucky is so pissed at the prospect of Steve doing something so fucking stupid that he forgot about everything else and that’s it - maybe the universe did throw him a bone here, and Steve cannot even try to put himself together here.

He starts laughing, and a moment later he bursts out crying at the same time, his vision getting blurred at once - God, he really hopes there aren’t other Hydra operatives around or he’ll be completely useless to stop them. He doesn’t even try to wipe at his eyes, because he feels like he can’t even move his hands, and then he feels Bucky’s shaking fingers do it for him and his vision comes clear again and Bucky’s looking at him as if he’s a complete fucking idiot all over again and Steve’s never been happier in his entire life.

And then he has to say it.

“It was the shield or you,” Steve manages to say. “And - it’s always going to be you. Always. It wasn’t even a choice.”

“Is that why we’re - oh,” Bucky says, still holding Steve’s face in between both of his hands, “I - they - you -” He doesn’t know if he’s remembering things or not but from the way his forehead is scrunching maybe he is, and then he moves slightly closer, and is he smiling just a tiny bit?

“Steve?”

“Yeah?” Shit, he’s still barely getting the words out and he can’t fucking stop crying.

“It’s all scrambled,” he says, “but - good fucking - did I really avoid you for the last six months or so?”

“Yeah,” Steve admits, “but it was - I mean, it was reasonable. If you wanted to figure it out -”

“Shit, guess it was two of us being idiots then,” Bucky sighs, but he doesn’t sound too sad about it.

“Sorry, but if being an idiot means choosing you, then it’s not going to change ever,” he says, and it’s maybe the easiest thing he’s ever told anyone since he woke up from the ice.

“Guess I’ll have to make sure you don’t end up killing yourself all over then?” Bucky asks, and it’s barely audible again and he sounds as if he can’t even believe he’s saying it, but Steve can only say yes, always before grabbing Bucky by the shoulders and crush him against this chest, and fuck everything else. Bucky grabs back at his shoulders tentatively for one moment but then strong enough that Steve almost can’t breathe but it’s fine, it’s all right, it’s exactly how it’s supposed to be, and as one of his hands finds its way to the back of Bucky’s head and starts carding through his hair all over again, and while Bucky moves so that his forehead touches Steve’s, his eyes closed but it’s obvious from his expression that he’s there and if not with his whole memories then with his whole self, Steve -

Steve doesn’t want to just hope anymore, especially because then it just disappoints him.

Steve knows they’ll be all right, same as he knows he’ll always choose Bucky and same as Bucky always knows him after all, and screw everything else.

Maybe he was too late this one time and all the others, but he’s never letting it happen again.

End.