Fandom: Captain America/MCU
Rating/Words: PG, 3500
Characters: Bucky Barnes, Steve Rogers (bit of Natasha Romanoff and Sam Wilson)
Pairing: Bucky/Steve or Bucky&Steve BrOTP, up to you. Nothing explicit.
Genre: Canon Divergence AU.
Spoilers: Winter Soldier
Summary: I know him. He has to understand, no matter the price.
A/N: So yeah, all the feels, obviously. And a slight readjustment of the timeline. But I think we all wish that scene had gone down differently, right? My thanks to hearts_blood for the speedy look-through!
Also at AO3
"I know him."
That face. He knows that face. Not from the previous mission, not only that, from before.
From the shards of his dreams.
The shards come mostly when he sleeps. Sharp as crystal, cold as ice, they cut him so he pushes them away. Yet sometimes they break free and swirl in his mind, slicing it to flashes like mirrors that reflect only distorted images of himself. They tell him they're bits of past missions, meaningless. So why do they cut him? Why can he never hold onto them?
Yet here, now, he holds onto this shard, though it threatens to make him bleed. He knows he's seen that face before. Those bits and pieces mean something.
And they would take it away, flush it down the drain, make this mission just another shard to reappear when he sleeps. Part of him accepts that, but the rest... No.
He is not yet restrained and they have fixed his arm. Calculating the distance, the opposition, his tactics takes only a flick of his eyes.
There's shouting and alarm and commands at him, but he hears none of it. It's all just noise, blending into the noise in his head. His objective and target is set: out.
Out, out, out.
Bones crack – not his own – and he has a sidearm in each hand before the first body is on the floor. Two more bodies join it on the ground, and he never truly sees them – they are there, and they are not, and he keeps moving. His feet are no less deadly than the weapons in his hands as he reaches the door.
"STOP HIM!" Pierce yells. His voice penetrates, somewhat comforting in its familiarity. Sometimes that voice has been the one shard he holds onto when his mind is full of them. But not this time.
Pierce can't stop him. They can't stop him. Not now, not ever. Only one man can stop him.
I know him.
He catches the tranq dart on his prosthesis and pulls the door from the frame. He throws the door back into the room and his gaze follows it, as it crashes into the chair where he was just sitting, and into the device and equipment, and into…
… pain …
Black fog rises up, smothering him in nothingness.
But sparks and smoke and yells pull him from that yawning emptiness in his mind, and his vision clears. He runs.
The winter wind can not be stopped. He has to know. He has to understand.
I know him. I know him. How do I know him?
Wrong, something is wrong. Something has broken in his head; there are cracks in his mind, and now something is rising from those cracks, showing him that they exist. It pushes him to fight, pushes him outside.
It isn't panic, it isn't fear – he feels neither. But his clarity is gone, and the ice is gone, replaced by a need. He doesn't understand it but he moves, because he has no other choice.
I know him. Who is he?
From that question comes another he never considered before: Who am I?
He scoops up a grenade fired at him and throws it backward to delay his pursuers. The heat from the explosion brushes his back and the warm air stirs his hair.
Other shards rise in the wake of that heat, like needles across his skin and behind his eyes, flashes of things he can't see and can't understand. He's glad to dive into the river and let it take him. It's cold there, washing the shards away into the dark, but he doesn't have time to delay. The dog has slipped its leash and their tiger is outside its cage, and they will come for him.
He understands that, and in the end, he'll let them. But first, he has to know.
He swims with strong strokes to propel himself away from the base as fast as possible. The river pushes him along as he finds the fastest current, but at a random spot, he crawls out of the water. The air is cold but it doesn't matter, not to him. He is the Winter Soldier, and he is cold as death.
The house is empty, and though his entry through the back door sets off the house alarm, he remains methodical. The police are busy, private security will be easily managed if it comes at all, and it is too soon for his handlers to be looking for such hints. He finds other clothes, including a hooded jacket large enough. The house safe contains a .22 semiautomatic pistol, two ammunition clips, three hundred dollars in cash, and a passport. He takes all of it, even though the passport turns out to be for a teenage blonde woman. There's a Honda sedan in the garage and a key for it on the hook by the door so he doesn't have to hot-wire it. He drives away; he will have to change cars soon, but for now his position is secure.
He navigates by the maps in his mind and needs little conscious thought.
I need to find him. How do I find him? I know his apartment location, but surely he won't return there. They are hunting him, as I am hunting him, and now they are hunting me. Where will he go?
He saw the shield with the star on it. He knows what the shield means. Captain America. He knows his target is Captain America; he knows about New York, and yet somehow "Captain America" echoes in his ears strangely now.
I know him. As more than a target, more than a celebrity.
There is little certainty in his mind; there are too many pieces for that. Too many fragments, too much lost, too much blown by the blizzard and scoured clean.
But now... he's certain about this. That he knows Captain America from before. Before. Somehow.
Unbidden, another shard rises up, the memory of recognition in Captain America's eyes, that moment in the street when he saw his opponent's face clearly.
That means, Captain America knows him.
He knows me, too.
He feels sick, dizzy, nearly crashes the car into the concrete barrier before he jerks the wheel back into position, as other car horns blare.
Blinking in the sudden brightness, he sees he's crossed into DC. He's on the Mall, among the tourists and the government flunkies who have no idea their world is about to be remade or their hero will soon be dead.
There are flags on the poles, advertisements for a special exhibit at the Air and Space Museum, and at first he thinks his mind is playing tricks on him when he sees that the banners say: Captain America.
There. If he can't see the actual man, maybe there's an answer to why the man haunts his mind. Why he can't turn away.
He ditches the car and walks to the museum. He can make himself seem small and walk unnoticed, and no one sees his artificial hand in his pocket. He plucks a baseball cap from a bench as he passes, and sunglasses from a man he bumps, and pulls his hair into a tail through the cap's fastener as he enters the building.
Children's excited cries fill the hall, and he tenses at the echoes. He passes the historic relics without looking at any of them, and his feet carry him toward the exhibit.
He tenses more when he sees the banner at the front and his footsteps slow.
Someone will notice you. Move. Keep moving.
His brain says the words, but the rest of him doesn't listen. He stops and he stares at the photo.
The feeling rises up inside him like a wave, lifting him up and smashing him back down, until he can't breathe and his heart is unaccountably thumping in his chest.
I know him.
Captain America's name is written right there, in the first blurb on the wall: Steven Rogers.
Steve. His name is Steve.
But the name means nothing, only the photo reaches a long claw inside him and fishes something out of the shadows. He stares at it so long a museum worker comes closer: "Sir? Are you all right?"
His hand has a grip on the sidearm inside his jacket pocket before she finishes the question. But instead of killing her as instinct demands, he answers, "Headache."
"It's a little dimmer inside the exhibit," she says helpfully, "or there's aspirin and such at the gift shop."
He walks inside, even though something tells him that this is a bad, dangerous idea. He has jumped into entire battalions of enemies with less trepidation than walking inside this museum exhibit.
But still, he goes in.
The next photo makes him gasp, and there's another shard of memory, another sharp blade, that says, I know this.
It is Steve Rogers, but younger, smaller, thinner. Not yet Captain America. Not yet imbued with the supersoldier serum.
His mouth opens and his lips shape the words silently: Steve. I know you, why do I know you?
His head hurts now, pounding against his skull, aching, and he raises his flesh hand to push at his forehead. He needs to escape. There is something in this exhibit that will utterly destroy him and he can't look at it. He needs to leave. He needs to go back to the base. He needs to be pure; he needs the ice again.
He looks at that photo of Steve Rogers and he knows that face. He can't leave.
A sudden influx of a crowd coaxes him to move down the wall. The war.
He knows he's seen war. Many of the shards are weapons and fighting and screams of the dying. So this is familiar. Not remembered, but he knows a uniform, he knows the feel of guns in his hand. There is one right now in the pocket of his jacket.
There are other faces in the photos, but his eyes floats over them, unrecognized. Except the woman.
It isn't her face, but a voice that suddenly slashes its way to the forefront, echoing in his ears. It's a woman's voice speaking with an English accent. He can't hear the words exactly, but somehow he knows it's her voice.
How does he know her voice?
His hand is trembling as he pushes at his forehead again, and a soft moan escapes his lips.
He should be immune to pain; he's trained to put pain into the cold and ignore it, but this... a bullet in his brain would hurt less. Something's wrong in his head. He's unraveling.
He stumbles another two steps to his left and when his eyes lift, he sees the next photo in the exhibit. It's oversized, black-and-white, and a bit blurry: he recognizes it anyway.
His own eyes stare back.
James Buchanan Barnes.
James Buchanan Barnes. The name whirls in his mind, never settling, over and over again. Unfamiliar, he doesn't know it.
But it must be. This is the secret they kept from him.
"No..." the denial falls from his lips as a moan and he clutches at his head as it explodes with pain. His brain is on fire. He needs to be cold, but he's on fire.
"Oh my God."
The soft voice of recognition is outside his own head, originating from six meters to his left, and he lowers his hands to grab the sidearm. The voice is familiar.
No, it can't be, this place is making him insane. It can't be happening. His mind is broken. None of this is true.
"Oh my God, Bucky," Steve whispers, moving closer. "You're here."
"It's not true, you're not here."
"It's true. Whatever they told you, whatever you believe is happening, it's not the truth. This is the truth," Steve's voice is gentle but firm. "You're my friend."
"You're my mission!" he snarls and whips out the gun, to point it at Steve. The aim is unwavering, right at his heart – Steve doesn't seem to have his shield or any other weapon. He's defenseless.
People see the gun and scream around them, and Steve calls out, without looking away from Bucky, "I have this, everybody get out. Now."
"Is that Captain America? Really?" someone asks, more curious than afraid.
Steve repeats, more forcefully, "Everyone clear out!"
The bystanders rush out of the exhibit, while Steve stares into his eyes and neither of them move. "Bucky, they're going to come. I have to go, and I think you should come with me."
"You're my mission," he insists. But the gun shakes in his hand, and he knows he should take down the target, but he doesn't.
"You're my friend," Steve reminds him. "You've always been my friend. I don't know what happened to you, I don't understand how you're back, but you're my friend. We can figure it out. Together." He holds out an open hand – and his eyes shine. He's so bright. Like the sun. Full of hope. "Bucky, please. I'm not going to fight you," Steve tells him. "I can't. I'm with you, til the end of the line, remember?"
He shakes his head a little, not looking away. "I know you. How do I know you?" he whispers.
Steve's bright eyes get brighter still, and his lips tremble as he tries to speak through sudden emotion as he realizes. "Oh God, what did they do to you?"
"I know you." He can't find any other words. Those are the only ones that matter anyway. He lowers the gun; he's not going to shoot Steve and he knows it. His head feels like knives stabbing him, the blare of the movie still playing somewhere behind him is like nails driven in his skull. "It's not true..." he whispers, trying to make it stop. He needs to embrace the cold again, the darkness. There are so many shards now, spinning, a storm of broken glass and it hurts so much. "It can't be real."
He falls to both knees, feeling sick and weak, and lost. There's a cavernous emptiness in his head, an awareness that things are missing that he's never noticed were gone before.
Steve swallows and takes a step closer. "You are James Buchanan Barnes, Bucky Barnes. You're my friend. I've known you since we were rugrats in Hell's Kitchen together. I promise that's the truth. And I swear I'll help you, anything you need. But we need to get out of here, before they come." Then he holds out his hand again and implores, "Please, Bucky. Please come with me."
His prosthesis reacts to his subconscious even before he's decided – it lifts to grab Steve's hand. Steve's eyes widen in surprise, but his fingers grip back.
He stands again, finding himself barely a hand-span from Steve, and eye to eye. The whispered words fall from his lips, in soft confession, "I don't know who I am."
Steve smiles. "That's okay; I do."
He looks down to see Steve hasn't let go of his hand. He's still holding onto the metal fingers, as if they were flesh. As if they hadn't tried to strangle him and hadn't struck him just hours ago. As if he might never let go.
This should be wrong. Steve is a target and a mission, and there remains an instinct – a desire to obey his orders and kill – but the impulse is buried under Steve's hopeful eyes. It feels... right.
Steve seems to see that, and his smile widens a bit before he asks, "You ready? We might have to fight our way out."
He lifts the sidearm, points it upward. "I can manage."
"I noticed," Steve says with a wry twist of his mouth, and his hand lets go. He hurries to the costume display, rips the Captain America uniform off the mannequin and shoves it on over his other clothes. Then he grabs the shield on display – it's not the real one, but it's apparently close enough to be useful. "Let's go. I have a motorcycle parked east side of the building."
He blinks, remembers building plans for the museum – has he been here before? Why does he know the building's plan? – "This way."
Movement makes him feel better. The pain in his head retreats before the promise of battle, as he settles into the focus of an objective and action.
As expected, the police and SHIELD and HYDRA with them arrive, but the coverage at this exit is poor. Between the two of them, they disable the vehicles and Steve starts the motorcycle. "Bucky!"
He responds as if it's his name – is it his name? Is it really his past? How that be? – and he sits backward on the bike, back to back with Steve so he can use his few remaining bullets to discourage pursuit, as the motorcycle leaps for the sidewalk. They corner twice, and take the curb with a flying leap across the grass of the Mall.
Their pursuers have no air support, so Steve takes advantage of the bike's agility and loses the pursuit quickly, slowing his speed and heading into the suburbs, underneath old trees, and amid quiet homes with children's toys on front lawns.
It all seems… peculiar, wrong. Too quiet. Too warm. The Winter Soldier doesn't belong here.
The pain in his head returns, flaring behind his eyes and deep into his temples, as if his brain is cracking apart.
The bike stops abruptly and Steve turns. "Bucky?" Then the worry grows to outright alarm flaring through his face. "Bucky, oh my God..."
He's shaking, he realizes then, his hands trembling against Steve's skin. He tries to control it, but he can't. He's bleeding from his nose, despite the lack of wounds.
"I have to go back," he says. "They'll fix me."
"No." Steve shakes his head urgently. "They did this to you. They… hurt you, Bucky; they hurt you and made you into–"
He stops but there's only one end of that sentence that fits.
"Into a monster." He can't remember it, but he knows. He is everything that Captain America is not: dark to his light, a monster to his hero. He is the weapon in the hand of Captain America's enemies. James Buchanan Barnes was Steve Rogers' friend, but the Winter Soldier is Captain America's enemy.
There is nothing else left of him.
"No," Steve insists. His hand is warm on the shoulder beneath his tight grip. "No. Not a monster. We'll… fix it. Make you better. Please, hang on, we're almost there. Natasha was like you, and she's okay now; we can help you."
Fingers wipe the blood from his upper lip, and the blood suggests there is nothing that can help him. But Steve's eyes are bright with determination, and that's a shard from the past, too, and he clutches it as tightly as he can. "Steve," he whispers, tasting the name in his mouth. "I know you."
"Yes, yes, you do. Just hold on." Steve guides flesh and metal hands around his waist to keep him there and guns the bike back to life again. "Almost there."
Slumping against Steve, he closes his eyes, as his head burns and the chill gathers across his skin. It is weakness and they would be very angry at him. But Steve is warm.
The bike turns and bumps into a driveway and to the back of a house and beneath a porch roof – good, then helicopters won't spot the bike.
But when he tries to get off, the ground and sky shimmer and whirl, and his knees fold. Steve catches him, holds him across his knees and against his chest, and calls urgently, "Nat! Sam!"
Sam turns out to be their ally from the previous engagement, rushing out and then stopping abruptly. "What the--? What's wrong with him?" There's a surprising amount of concern in his voice, for someone who had shot at him.
And of course he knows Natalya Romanova, Black Widow. His free arm starts the motion to pull his sidearm and kill her – there's a standing order – but he's out of ammunition. Steve takes his hand and soothes, "It's going to be okay. Rest easy, Bucky."
"Steve, when I said to pick up your stuff from the exhibit, I didn't mean for you to bring him back, too," she teases drily, but kneels beside them. "Where are you hurt?"
He shakes his head. He's not hurt. He's broken.
A little frown appears between her brows, thoughtful. "Do you know who you are?" she asks.
"Winter Soldier," he answers automatically. It's not a name – it's a designation. It's a project and a weapon, like Black Widow, but he's the only one.
She shakes her head once. Her eyes are intent on him, but kinder than he would expect from a Black Widow. Maybe Steve is right and they did help her. "Your name," she insists.
He hesitates. He knows what it is – what it seems to be, if this isn't all another trick by his handlers – but the name still means nothing to him. His name and his past are still lost in the cracks in his head, but he glances into Steve's face and he says, "I know you."
"Of course you do. You're Bucky," Steve reminds him, and he's trying to smile, but his eyes are liquid. His arms tighten and his voice cracks a little, "I promise, you're Bucky. We'll help you find Bucky again."
Steve has no doubt in his voice, and so he can take Steve's certainty and make it his own. "Yes, I'm Bucky."
Bucky closes his eyes and lets himself fall away from the pain. When he sleeps, he dreams of kitchen tables in tiny apartments, shining blue eyes, and the soft warmth of friends laughing together.
Crossposted from DW There are comments over there. Feel free to comment wherever.