shadows of days that are gone

Author's Note: This will certainly be jossed by the upcoming “Captain America - The Winter Soldier”, but who cares? 🙂 Title from the song “Memories". The idea just appealed to me that Steve & Bucky might have known it, since it’s originally from 1915 and has been recorded again and again since then.


No matter how many times they wipe and freeze him, the Winter Soldier always wakes with the same dream: There are mountains, and he’s falling, falling through the ice-cold air, and there’s someone… someone staring at him with horror in his eyes, hand outstretched. He knows he will hit the ground at any moment and the impact will kill him, but somehow it’s more important not to lose sight of those eyes, that hand. He always wakes with a gasp that’s not quite a name on his lips.

After a few attempts to delete that dream, the one they know is a actually a memory, the Red Room accepts that their programming will take in spite of it and stop interfering. The Winter Soldier obeys without question, he kills without hesitation or mercy whoever needs killing, he commands soldiers and trains others to be assassins almost as good as himself. However, it’s the fact that he remembers anything as much as his value as a weapon in the long term that makes his owners deactivate, freeze and wipe him over and over again.

So he wakes from his dream, a clean slate for his masters’ whims - and still, he never tells anyone that he sometimes also dreams of falling at other times. It’s his only secret, one he keeps without knowing why. Everything else he is belongs to them - his deadly skills, his metal arm, his ability to speak English like an American from Brooklyn. But the dream, horrifying as it is with its endless falling, that’s his alone. Especially the man in it, the one whose face he can’t remember but who is looking at him, reaching for him, as if he’s about to lose the most precious thing in the world. He doesn’t remember that his memories are tampered with to suit his missions, but somewhere deep inside there’s the knowledge that no one else ever looks at him like that, like he’s a real person and not just a useful weapon.

It’s a never-ending cycle - until the time he wakes and there’s a red-headed woman clad in black leather above him and his mind is strangely empty, except for the dream and the man in it. The woman looks at him calmly, and although he’s confused, there’s familiarity in that blank calmness, enough to keep him from wondering too much about the hole where his orders, his personality are supposed to be. He doesn’t even know enough to freak out over this lack of of curiosity.

Then the woman asks him in Russian, the smallest trace of confusion in her voice: “Were you dreaming just now, soldier?”

His reply is automatic, his rusty voice repeating the exact same words he always uses upon waking, the only time he ever mentions the dream: “I was falling. It was cold, and there was… someone. I think he was trying to save me.”

The woman’s eyes widen at this, and she turns away from him slightly, talks to someone over her shoulder, in English this time: “This is unexpected - no one is supposed to be able to dream after a wipe. They don’t leave enough of you for dreams. But, Captain, I think… I think he might remember you.”

“Bucky?!” Strapped down as he is, he can’t see who responded, but suddenly the large form of a man looms over him, a big hand grasping his flesh one so tight it hurts. The man is formidable, all muscles and strength, yet his face is an open book - the blue eyes scrutinizing him, worried, scared and hopeful all at once. It’s too much, and the soldier - that’s what the woman called him, and it feels right - pulls back, turning his face away. The man lets go off his hand as if he’s been burned, and the soldier pushes down a strange feeling of guilt at the disappointment in that open, honest face.

“I don’t fucking know you,” he hears himself insist in English vehemently, although he isn’t sure at all. After all, he can’t even remember his own name, his own purpose - and he used to have a purpose, that’s something he feels deep in his bones, right down to the metal of his arm. Which is completely disabled, he notices only now, and with this realization comes another thought: “Am I a prisoner? Did you drug me somehow, make me forget?”

The big man takes a step back as if he’s been slapped: “What?! No! Bucky, we’d never do that…”

His agitation makes the soldier feel even more uncomfortable, nervous, but before he can do more than test the straps that bind him, the red-headed woman steps into his line of sight again, blocking his view of the unsettling, sad blue eyes.

“Captain, it’s better if you take a step back, go get some fresh air. Whatever his dream means, it’s obvious that you’re upsetting him. I’ll better take over again.” She looks at the soldier, something like compassion in her cool eyes, and her demeanor felt soothing. “I know what he’s been through, after all, and these things take time.”

The big man protests, but softly, obviously knowing that he’s been dismissed, and finally leaves. The soldier hears the door close with a click and feels simultaneously relieved and bereft, although a part of him can’t help but note, drily: “Locked door. But this isn’t a prison? Care to explain this to me?”

The woman looks down for a moment, then meets his eyes again. “I can try. It’s not going to be easy, though, believe me. Do you think you’re strong enough, Yasha?”

She has changed back to Russian. Obviously both of them are fluent in both languages, a fact she knew for some reason. Just like she seems to know something else, something rather important: “Yasha?! Is that my name?”

“It used to be what you were called, for a while. We knew each other then, so it just slipped out.” She seems uncomfortable, as if embarrassed by her lapse of control. It’s a feeling he can understand, even if he’s not sure why. Is he like her, self-contained, controlled - and dangerous, like a sheathed knife, ready to strike at any moment? It feels as if he could be, although he’s not sure why he thinks so.

“If my name is so complicated, why don’t we start with your name? After all, we knew each other. At least according to you.” It’s strange how easily the words come that smooth a path between them, although he still only feels emptiness when he listens inside himself.

The woman appears to know exactly what he is doing and smiles at him with a mix of amusement and appreciation. “My name - well, the one I’ve been using for a while now - is Natasha. Natasha Romanoff.”

He can’t suppress a laugh, although it doesn’t sound very happy to his own ears: “So it’s not just my story that’s complicated. But we really must be in America. Romanoff - those yanks never get our last names right!”

He hears himself say ‘ours’ - does that mean he’s Russian? The thought feels neither right nor wrong, and the woman - Natasha - only laughs in agreement. Then she pulls up a chair next to his bed and turns serious, switching back to English: “Yes, we are in the US, in a facility belonging to an organisation called SHIELD, short for… oh, never mind, it’s not important. However, you were found in a bunker that used to belong to a top secret Soviet program called the Red Room. I was part of it, too, before I broke away and finally ended up here, with SHIELD. You… I think after the break-up of the Soviet Union they decided you were too great a risk, drawing too much attention. So they simply wiped you one last time and left you. They probably didn’t kill you just in case they ever needed your services again.”

So much information, and it all makes so little sense. The soldier tries to forge what she is telling him into something coherent, something that explains him, his existence, his emptiness, and latches onto one word: “Wipe me? You used that expression before, when you talked about me, with… with the big man.” Why does a part of him desperately shy away from even thinking of that stranger? But really, it does not matter, now that his curiosity has awoken and he feels he might finally get some answers.

Natasha’s face is a blank wall, her eyes closed off, but her voice is steady as she replies: “That’s what they did, in the Red Room. They wiped us, turned us into empty shells, and then filled us with whatever information was needed for our missions. I… was lucky, most of my missions were similar and I was… stable, because they got me when I was young, so I was only wiped a few times.” She takes a deep breath and he can see her fingers twitch slightly. “You, on the other hand, you were someone else for almost every mission.”

The soldier stares at her, trying to process the fact that someone apparently kept erasing and reprogramming him, leaving him nothing of whoever he used to be. Except the dream, a small voice in his head whispers, they left you with the dream. The voice sounds young, and definitely American - Brooklyn, he suddenly knows - and he clings to it like a lifeline. It gives him the incentive to ask the next question: “Why? Because of this?” He indicates his metal arm with a shrug of his shoulder, the only movement he’s currently capable of. “Or because they did not trust me to be… stable?”

She quirks an eyebrow at him, and he’s pretty sure it’s a compliment. “Two for two, as Clint - my… another agent here - would say. Your intuition has always been one of your biggest assets, it made you an excellent operative, no matter what they needed you for. There’s a lot of expensive technology in your arm, which made you worth keeping around for a long time, but I think they were also afraid that you might be able to somehow break your programming if they left you active, that your original personality might re-assert itself.”

The dream. It must be a memory, one from… before. He’s suddenly certain of that, even if he’s still not sure of anything else. “So who was I? Not a good Russian soldier, I assume, if they were that scared.”

“No, definitely not a good Russian soldier.” Natasha smiles with genuine amusement, and the soldier has the distinct impression that she does not do so very often, but it’s rather attractive as well as infectious, and he finds himself grinning back. Then her smile fades, and the light seems dimmer somehow. “Actually, the opposite - you are originally American, they found you a long time ago and used you for their purposes.”

“But I was a soldier, wasn’t I? Fighting the Russians?” He can’t remember history, but he’s pretty sure the USA and Russia never really got along. “And how long is ‘a long time ago’?”

Natasha shook her head, putting on a smile that was bright but to him obviously false: “I think we’ve covered enough ground for the moment. Please, believe me when I say that too much information all at once can be dangerous for a mind that’s been wiped so many times.”

The soldier gives her a long, considering glance which she returns frankly until he shrugs: “Alright. Just one more piece of information: if I was... am... American, what’s my name? You can tell me that much.”

Natasha has started to turn to leave but stops at this: “Fair enough. Actually, it’s the English version of what I called you before - Yasha. Your real name is James. But everything else will have to wait until next time, I’m afraid.”

James. Yasha. He rolls the names around in his mind, even says them out loud a few times into the empty room, but neither sounds familiar, as if it belongs to him. The dream is still all he has, so he closes his eyes and wills himself to sleep, to dream, although uneasily. What horrible things lie hidden in his past that he clings to a nightmare of falling and a man’s horrified blue eyes?

When he wakes, Natasha is back, bringing a tray of food, and suddenly he’s ravenous. He eats with his one usable hand, the other still nothing but a lump of metal attached to his body. In between bites he asks, nodding towards his left side: “Is it broken somehow or did you guys turn it off deliberately?”

Natasha has the grace to look apologetic: “They had to disable it completely until Mr. Stark has figured out how to remove all the weapons safely. It’s full of booby traps, and we’d rather you didn’t blow up and took all of us with you.”

“Also, I might use the weapons against you,” he says matter-of-factly. “After all, you implied yesterday that that was my primary purpose.”

Natasha throws a wry glance at a screen in the corner which so far he had not paid any attention to: “Yes, that too. Although, Ste… some people were quite insistent that you would never do this, now that you’re free of the programming.”

More mysteries. What else could he expect? He cocks his head and studies the screen, taking in a small blinking light at the top of it: “I’m assuming this is a camera of some sort? Very small, and a very big screen.”

As soon as the words have left his mouth he wonders why he expected them to be different. He has no conscious memory of technology of any size, although the words come to him naturally. Somehow this unsettles him, and he quickly changes the topic: “I still can’t remember whether it’s really my name, but I guess James will do for now.”

Natasha gives him another smile that tells him that she knows exactly what he’s doing but will let it slide for the time being: “Great - James. I know this must be frustrating and confusing, but some very smart people are pretty certain you will regain more of your memories in time and with careful stimuli.”

As if on cue the door opens again and the big man from yesterday enters. James feels himself tense up, and Natasha gives the stranger a warning glance and her words seem to be directed as much to him as to James: “James, this is… Captain Rogers. He used to know you, too, but he knows not to overwhelm you with too much history.”

The newcomer ducks his head as if chastised, and James can’t help but smile a bit. Natasha is so petite, especially next to the Captain’s massive frame, broad shoulders and muscles visible even through his loosely-cut checkered shirt and jeans, yet it is clear she commands a lot of respect. When the Captain catches James’ look, his face lights up in turn, as if he has been given a precious gift. Immediately James schools his features, and Captain Rogers’ smile dims but stays, determination edged into the handsome face as he says pleasantly: “I am glad Natasha is looking after you so well, B... James.” He shoots Natasha a quick glance and continues: “But please, call me Steve.”

Natasha says nothing to this, and the Captain grins as if he’s gotten away with something. No, not the Captain - Steve, James corrects himself silently, unsure why the name seems such a big deal. Maybe he really used to know the guy and called him by his first name - although, as was apparent from Steve’s almost-slip, he had apparently not called him James. Impulsively he asks: “Did… do I have any nicknames?”

The two of them exchange a look, and it’s Steve who replies: “I… most people called you Bucky, because your middle name is Buchanan and there were always a million Jameses around.” He seems to want to go on but forces himself to stop at this short explanation. His smile speaks of memories and is both fond and wistful. James finds that he’s not ready to accept this nickname, this sign of a familiarity he can not reciprocate, but he manages a small smile and a thank you. The latter once again makes Steve’s face light up and something tightens in James’ gut, unexpected emotions threatening to overwhelm him.

Natasha, who’s kept herself in the background so far, immediately reads him and gently says to Steve: “I think that’s enough for today, Captain. You can come back tomorrow.” She throws James a questioning glance as she says this, and James makes himself nod.

Steve shoots him a grateful look and says, his voice very soft: “I’ll see you tomorrow then, Buck.” His hand twitches as if he’d like to touch James’ shoulder but he refrains, for which James is thankful.

After that Natasha leaves him alone, and James tries to make sense of the flood of emotions swirling inside his head, inside his heart. There was something about that man, about Steve, that much he’d felt right after waking up, but now, after seeing him up close, hearing his voice say that nickname as if it was something he treasured… as if it was something he’s not said aloud for a long, long time.

“Oh, fucking hell!” The words escape before James can hold them back, because suddenly he remembers Steve’s voice, not just speaking but screaming. Screaming that nickname with his heart in his eyes and a hand stretched out desperately as James falls, falls, and keeps falling... He’s seen this moment a thousand times, except now the shadowy man has a face and a name that Bucky had almost remembered every time he woke. “Steve…” he whispers and doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

How the hell had they ended up here, decades after the War and the Howling Commandos, with Bucky’s memory scrambled eggs and an arm that’s a weapon, doubtlessly used to kill many, many people. It’s not that he suddenly remembers everything, but it still feels like too much, and Bucky finds himself rocking back and forth in his bed. He’d be pacing if he wasn’t restrained - not that he doesn’t understand the need for this, because suddenly Natasha’s careful explanations feel less like remote facts than something horrifyingly real.

That’s when someone in a white coat comes in, Natasha hot on his heels, obviously unhappy - and if Bucky were that lab guy, he’d be terrified - but all she can do is give him an apologetic look and speak quickly: “Sorry, James, your heart rate went up and they’re worried. It’s just a sedative.”

The coat is at his side now, with a hypo to his neck, and Bucky just manages a nod at Natasha and a hoarse “Bucky - call me Bucky, Nat” before everything goes dark. He only realizes that he’d called her “Nat” when he wakes again from dreamless unconsciousness, and with it comes a memory of teaching a younger, harder version of her brutal combat techniques - followed by equally brutal sex, also part of training a female recruit. Bucky shudders, trying to force his mind away from the images, the cold lack of emotions that accompanies them.

That’s when he feels a strong hand clasp his own and opens his eyes to meet Steve’s worried glance. The other man lets go immediately, but Bucky tightens his grip, his nails biting into Steve’s skin. Steve’s voice is strangled, but not from physical pain - never from that, this much Bucky remembers - but with the effort of keeping his emotions in check: “Natasha told me. Bucky, Bucky...”

He forces himself to meet Steve’s eyes, reading them as easily as ever: “I don’t remember everything; I’m sorry, pal. But I remember some - and a lot of it I wish I didn’t. How many years has it been, how many years since… since I fell?”

“Almost 70. They had you for almost 70 years - and oh, Buck, I hoped that you’d never remember that time in between, because that wasn’t you!” There is no mistaking the anguish in Steve’s face, but also the raw honesty as he holds onto Bucky’s hand when he tries to pull away. “It wasn’t. They wiped you clean and made you into their puppet - but you beat them, you kept a part of yourself. And here I thought I was the one who didn’t know when to give up…”

This forces a chuckle from Bucky: “Well, the fact that I followed you after you came to get me, when I could have gotten passage home, should prove that I’m at least as crazy as you are. Punk.” There are still gaps, gaping holes in his mind, but with every word more comes back. Brooklyn, the war, Hydra - and Steve, always Steve. “You used to be smaller before the war, right?”

Now Steve laughs as if he can’t help it: “I guess you’re not the only science experiment - although my time on ice was an accident. I’ve been awake for about two years now, but Tony Stark, Howard’s son, he still calls me ‘Capsicle’... Now he’s a punk if I ever met one!” Bucky grins, even if it’s half-heartedly because his brain is still too full, and for a moment they just sit like this, looking at each other, their hands still clasped.

Steve leaves soon after and Bucky can’t remember ever being this drained, not when he was a captive at Hydra - and it suddenly strikes him that maybe whatever they to him did there gave the Red Room a headstart when they found him. The thoughts and memories keep coming and he can’t stop them, his head aching, his mind filling up with too much until he’s afraid it will explode. So he does the only thing he can think of: he clings to his memories of Steve. That’s where it all started, that’s what he kept through all these years, and this is where he now finds a measure of peace.

People keep coming by - Natasha had warned him that he’d be evaluated regarding his possible release - and he can’t find it in himself to care. He answers their questions as best he can, even the ones about the Winter Soldier, the ones that make him want to crawl out of his own skin. The only thing that matters is that Steve is always there, either literally holding his hand or simply lending his support through the sheer strength of his presence. They’re intimidated when Steve, or rather Captain America, glares at them and tell them to back the fuck off, and Bucky is glad because Steve seems to know exactly where Bucky’s limits are, even when he himself doesn’t. When Steve is not around, sleeping or saving the world or whatever it is he does when he’s not here, he makes sure that Natasha is there to run interference. It’s not the same, but she’s more than scary enough to keep the worst of the shrinks at bay when Bucky starts visibly fraying at the edges.

It’s during one of those times, after throwing everyone out of his room, that Natasha has him tell her about growing up in Brooklyn because it’s a sure-fire way to get him back to himself when he’s been pushed too far. Who’d have thought memories of a life as little more than street rats would become the happiest he had? He doesn’t think, just talks: “We were so cold, and Steve, that brave bastard, he simply climbed into bed with me. He said it was to share body heat, but then he leaned up and kissed me, and it was so much better than any dame, even if he was a bony fucker…”

Bucky trails off as his words register. Natasha doesn’t show any sign of surprise - but then she wouldn’t - however, Bucky himself sure as hell feels shellshocked. Apparently, despite all the memories he’s been regaining and all the time he’s spent with Steve, one important piece had been missing, and he isn’t quite sure how to deal with this revelation. Because it hadn’t been just that one kiss, that had only been the beginning, and Bucky realises that he’s probably been queer for Steve Rogers for most of his life. Figures - suddenly the ferocity with which his subconscious has clung to that damn dream about falling makes a lot more sense. What else would survive the Red Room but years of loving that scrappy kid he’d met at the orphanage, even if that kid happened to be a guy?

Natasha is still looking at him calmly, but she’s moved to where Bucky knows she’s blocking the camera. He feels ridiculously grateful for this simple gesture of kindness. His head knows that being bent… gay is no longer illegal and is probably not even a big deal to the people watching and listening, except that it is. It has always been their most precious secret, the times they’d kissed and hesitatingly made out in their dingy bed-sit. And then, during the War, when death was just around the corner every day, there had been the stolen moments during which they’d explored each other’s bodies thoroughly, recklessly, making things up as they went along until Bucky knew how it felt to have Steve come apart inside of him. Even now Bucky’s cock twitches at the memory, its first sign of life since he woke at SHIELD, and Bucky is simultaneously scared and elated. “Has Steve ever told you, told anyone, about this, about us?” he finally asks Natasha, keeping his voice low.

She shakes her head and gives him a smile so sympathetic it would shock a lot of people who didn’t know her better: “Most people think Captain America is some kind of saint and hasn’t had a dirty thought in his life. Naturally, the team knows him a bit better by now, but I don’t think he’s let anyone come close enough for confidences of that sort.”

“I wouldn’t, Bucky - I couldn’t.” Steve’s voice is small, quiet, but Bucky starts, a part of him angry that he didn’t notice the door opening while Natasha doesn’t flinch. “You died, or so I thought, and I kind of fell to pieces - hell, Buck, I even kissed Peggy, I was trying so hard not to think of you, of us. That was the day I crashed, and then I woke up and it was the 21st century. But I thought about you. Every day. But if that’s over for you, that’s alright - I’m just happy to have you back.”

Steve draws a deep breath and fidgets, and Bucky can’t stop looking at him, properly looking - every line of his handsome face, and further down, to what Bucky knows lies underneath the boring civvies Steve is wearing, making him blush furiously, but then quickly back up, to the eyes that have always been the same, painfully honest and full of earnest love. Bucky feels something inside of him relax.

“C’mere,” he says, gesturing with his one hand. Steve hesitates, so Bucky rolls his eyes and beckons again. “Seriously, Rogers, get your ass over here.”

This makes Natasha lean closer and stage-whisper: “It might be all the talking. He’s not usually so chatty, our fearless leader.”

Bucky snorts and Steve finally moves, shooting Natasha a look that has her backing off with both hands raised, obviously humouring him. Then Steve is close enough to reach, and Bucky grabs his shirt, pulls him down with all his strength and Steve allows it, follows willingly until his arms bracket Bucky’s body on the bed. “Oh, I know how to make you talk, don’t I, Steve?”

He notices Steve turning bright red just before their lips meet but he still doesn’t resist, so Bucky claims that beautiful mouth and swallows the sharp exhalation that escapes Steve. The door clangs shut but Bucky’s too busy to take note, the taste of Steve triggering all sorts of new old memories, every one of them making him want to keep going, keep hold of Steve forever. Unfortunately the need for air forces him to break away just as Steve’s tongue sneaks into his mouth. For a moment they simply look at each other, their faces only inches apart, then they both start laughing, surprised and giddy with a happiness neither one of them had expected to ever feel again.

“You do know that this has been captured on film, don’t you?” Steve finally manages, while his hands start stroking all over Bucky’s face, shoulders and chest - not in an erotic way but more like he still has to reassure himself this is real, Bucky is real.

Bucky just laughs again: “Well, there goes your squeaky clean image then, Captain America - making out not just with a guy but with a brain-washed assassin who was born 90 years ago…” It’s the first time he’s been able to make light of his situation and he prays that Steve doesn’t turn this into anything serious, but as always Steve knows exactly what he needs and just grins a positively filthy grin before leaning back down.

Before he claims Bucky’s mouth again, he whispers: “Well, then let’s make it worth their while, show them what two old fogeys can get up to together... This is the future, after all - hell, they let guys get married here.” Bucky’s breath catches, and he’s not quite sure whether it’s Steve’s lips on his or the thought of marriage, not something he’s ever considered before. He wraps his arm around Steve’s waist and pulls until Steve inelegantly tumbles onto the bed with a grunt. His body is half on top of Bucky, and Bucky takes full advantage, angling his hips so he can sling one leg over Steve’s strong thighs until they’re both grinding against each other.

Steve might have been the one to start this whole affair all those years ago, but it had been Bucky with the imagination to make the most out of every situation - be it a subterranean bunker beneath London, a tiny pup tent or just a tree a few yards away from their comrades. This, this is positively luxurious, and Bucky slides his hand underneath Steve’s t-shirt and enjoys the feel of muscles rippling under his touch. Steve’s tongue is on his neck, teasing that one spot he’d already discovered during their first tentative attempts in Brooklyn, then he lifts himself up on one arm and simply rips Buck’s shirt apart, giving him access to Bucky’s chest and nipples. Bucky shivers, unsure whether it’s from this casual display of strength or the heat of Steve’s mouth and not much caring.

“Steve, fuck, Steve…” he groans and offers himself to his friend, his lover, and for once his head is blissfully empty except for wanting more of this. Steve accepts the obvious invitation, moving down the bed, and soon Bucky swears again as Steve’s mouth wraps around his cock. Strong hands are holding him down firmly, and Bucky suddenly remembers other moments like this, always in secret, and tries to bite on the hand not grasping Steve’s hair, to keep himself silent, only to realize it’s his metal arm, and that’s not budging.

He freezes for a moment, and Steve stops sucking and looks up at him with concern. Bucky just shakes his head and Steve gives him a small nod and goes back to work. When Bucky comes, it’s with a laugh of elation - he feels as if he’s falling again, but this time, Steve is there to catch him, holding him through the aftershocks, placing soft kisses all over Bucky’s cock, his stomach, and back up to his mouth. Bucky claims it hungrily, tasting himself on Steve’s tongue and responding to the urgency in Steve’s kiss by sliding his hand between their bodies and into Steve’s slacks. It only takes a few twists of Bucky’s hand, the muscle memory of just exactly what makes Steve go crazy coming back effortlessly, and Steve buries his face in Bucky’s neck, shuddering as he comes apart. His arms buckle and his full weight collapses on top of Bucky, but he does not mind in the least. He hasn’t felt this safe, this protected in… he can’t remember how long. Literally can’t remember, not just a figure of speech, but the painful thought has lost some of its power, now that he’s pretty sure he’s remembered the most important thing: “Fuck, I love you, you big lug.”

The words come out almost soundlessly, but his mouth is right next to Steve’s ear, and he can feel Steve’s lips curve into a huge smile against his neck, his breath tickling his sweaty skin as he whispers back: “Right back atcha, Bucky.”

They fall asleep like this, until Bucky wakes in a cold sweat with a hoarse scream - apparently now that his mind has more memories to play with, falling into an abyss and losing everything isn’t horrifying enough anymore. Steve is awake in an instance, whispering soothing nonsense and holding him until Bucky calms down enough to realize it had been Natasha’s entrance that woke him. He should probably be embarrassed, but he’s too wrung out from the remnants of a nightmare full of killing and torture, so he simply burrows deeper into Steve’s embrace. The memories have no power over him here, and he whispers against the powerful chest he’s clinging to: “Sorry, I get the feeling I’m going to be doing that a lot.”

Steve only laughs and lifts his face with two fingers, forcing him to look into his loving eyes: “Yes, and it’s going to be such a hardship, Barnes.” Then he kisses him, and they almost get lost in the taste of each other again, except that Natasha is still in the room and now rather forcefully clearing her throat. Bucky might have ignored her, but naturally Steve has to go and break the kiss, even if he keeps his arms wrapped around his lover and smiles apologetically.

“If I was Stark I’d tell you to get a room, but as it is I’m here because Director Fury has given permission for Sergeant Barnes here to leave - as long as it’s somewhere where SHIELD can keep an eye on him.” She shoots them a look that Bucky is pretty sure is teasing. “I suggested your unused apartment at Stark Towers, Captain - the security is the best there is, you yourself can be there whenever you’re not on a mission, and James will be on hand for Stark to work on his arm.”

Bucky only understands half of what she says, but all he needed to hear was that he would get to leave this room, and leave it with Steve. So he gives Natasha his best leer: “Does that mean our little show convinced the people upstairs that I’m back or do they just not want a repeat performance in the sanctity of their prison… I mean, lab?”

Bucky can feel Steve’s laughter rumble through his chest: “Shut up, Buck, or Directory Fury might change his mind. You haven’t met him yet, but you do not want to get on his bad side.” Then he lowers his voice and his breath ghosts against Bucky’s ear, making him shiver, although once again the meaning of the words escapes him: “Especially the one with his good eye.”

Bucky sees Natasha bite her lip as if holding back a laugh, but as always her voice is calm and business-like: “I take it this means you accept the proposal?”

“Sure, let’s get out of here!” Bucky shrugs nonchalantly, as if he wasn’t starting to tense up, now that the prospect of leaving, of going out into the world - or at least out of this facility - has started to sink in. There are still all those memories to deal with, the horrors he not only experienced but caused, and somehow that suddenly seems easier here in these four walls, with only Steve - and Natasha - as witnesses and guides.

But as always Steve is right there with him, tightening his grip on Bucky and pressing a kiss to his temple: “It’ll be great, Bucky - just think, the two of us, in our own flat… all the things we can get up to!” It sounds as if he’s simply teasing, and Bucky’s cock does indeed twitch a little at the mental images the words conjure up, but in truth it’s so much more: It’s a reminder of all they’ve shared - the grubby little flat before the war, the years of hiding their love with shoulder bumps and noogies, and the simple fact that Steve will always have his back.

“Oh, I get the picture, Steve-o…” Bucky grins wolfishly and moves backwards, causing Steve to make a sound that’s half moan and half laugh. He looks at Natasha: “Why don’t you give me and the Cap here just a moment to say to goodbye to these luxurious surroundings?” Natasha just shakes her head and starts backing out. Bucky salutes her sloppily, but he’s completely sincere as he calls after her: “Thanks, Nat. We’ll see you later.”

Then the door closes and Steve has him on his back in a heartbeat, kissing him until Bucky’s gasping for air - Steve, of course, is barely breathing harder, the suped-up bugger, as he repeats, more seriously: “Honest, Bucky, Stark Towers will be fantastic.”

He’s not sure what the future will hold, except that it probably won’t be a cakewalk - but that’s no different from the War, so he just shrugs: “Well, we’ve already established that I’ll follow you anywhere, so why stop now?”

With that, he starts mouthing open kisses against the side of the muscular neck, the memory of how he discovered this particular sweet spot, back when he was still the taller one, clear as day. Bucky grins as he feels Steve’s cock rapidly hardening against his hip and wraps his good arm around his lover’s back, using the leverage to grind upwards.

All the Winter Soldier had was a dream, of falling into endless cold and of a faceless, nameless man - now Steve Rogers is warm in his arms, and Bucky Barnes is wide awake.

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