“I think that love is stronger than habits or circumstances. I think it is possible to keep yourself for someone for a long time, and still remember why you were waiting when she comes at last.”
“Come on, baby, I don’t want your teary face to be the last thing I see,” Bucky laughed at you, using his thumbs to wipe the tears from your cheeks, but despite his efforts, they kept falling. You sniffled and brought your hands up to hold his and gave him the biggest smile you could manage. “Much better. I want that smile seared into my memory.”
“It should already be there,” you told him, laughing a bit and standing up on your toes to kiss his lips. You heard him sigh softly, his breath tickling your lips, before he pressed his mouth more firmly to yours. He pulled you nearer and you put your arms around his neck, squealing in surprise when he none to subtly slipped his tongue past your teeth. “Bucky!”
“What?” he laughed, still holding you tightly against him. “I thought it was appropriate for the moment,” he said, dropping his head down so his forehead was pressed against yours and you were staring straight into his eyes. He went quiet, just staring at you, until the two of you were interrupted when Steve loudly cleared his throat. You backed away first, a faint pink blush on your lips. Bucky just laughed and sidestepped to throw his arms around Steve’s thin shoulders. “Sorry, Stevie, forgot you were over here!”
“I’ll forgive you since it was [Name] you were distracted with,” Steve laughed, giving Bucky a good, hard squeeze before he backed away. He just shook his head. “Just don’t get too distracted out there. Keep your head on your shoulders and not in your pants, Barnes.”
“I’ll do my best, Rogers,” Bucky laughed, putting his arms around you again and tugging you into his side. You reached up to adjust his hat, fixing it so it sat straight and not crooked, before leaning up to kiss his cheek. Behind you, the train blared its horn suddenly and then everyone on the platform was rushing toward the open doors. “I guess that’s my boarding call.”
“So soon?” you asked, watching as all around you families bid their last goodbyes, soldiers giving last pecks on the cheeks before jumping into the train. You clung to Bucky suddenly, fingernails digging into his uniform. He kissed your head. “Just a few more minutes, maybe?”
“I think this is it, doll,” he said, stepping back to pick up his duffle bag. He gave Steve another squeeze and then stepped back, almost as if he thought he’d never let go if he grabbed hold of you again. He squared his shoulders and hefted his bag up, giving you a quick salute before stepping back onto the train. You instantly rushed after him, grabbing the front of his uniform and pulling him back so you could catch him up in one last kiss. He reacted immediately, grabbing you by the back of the neck but he forced himself away just as your lungs began to ache for air. “Don’t do this to me, doll. I gotta go. I love you. I love you so much.”
“I know,” was all you could whisper back, betrayed by your own voice that quivered and shook each time you started to speak. You finally released him and the doors closed as you stepped back to stand with Steve, taking his hand when he offered it to you. He gave it a hard squeeze. The train whistled blared again and the platform rumbled as the engine roared to life and the machine rolled forward. Women started to yell, waving flags and handkerchiefs at the men who hung out of the windows, and you felt yourself starting to move, Steve releasing your hand to let you go. “Bucky,” you called, but nowhere near loud enough to be heard over the crowd. “Bucky!”
“[Nickname], he can’t hear,” Steve tried, but the desperate look you sent him shut him up and he stopped following you, waiting behind with his hands in his pockets.
“Bucky!” you voice rose and you ran faster, heart pounding when he finally leaned out the window and looked back. “I love you too!” he grinned and removed his hat, giving it a grand wave to show that he heard you. You stopped, falling back into Steve when he appeared behind you, but you were satisfied. He’d heard you. He knew. “He’ll come back to us, right, Stevie?”
“Yeah,” Steve nodded, “No doubts about it. He’s with us to the end of the line, remember?”
“Welcome, Mrs. Barnes! We’ve been so eagerly awaiting your arrival!” a short, older man greeted you eagerly at the door, his arms extended toward you in welcome. He took your hands once you were close enough. “I am so very glad you agreed to my proposal. I am Arnim Zola, the one who called you here.”
“I want to see him,” you said, making sure to keep your voice steady and your face steeled into a frown. You withdrew your hands from his touch, folding them in front of you and tipping up your chin. You stared down your nose at the older man. “You said I could see them.”
“In time, Mrs. Barnes, in time,” he answered, waving away the soldiers that had escorted you inside and then turning on his heels, his white lab coat flourishing a bit as he did. “Come this way, please.”
“I want to see my husband,” you demanded, rooted to your spot and refusing to move. The man looked back over his shoulder at you and sighed heavily, but he looked as if he’d been expecting your protest. He removed his classes and pulled a cloth from his pocket. He talked to you as he cleaned the smudged lenses.
“Mrs. Barnes, I expected some hesitation from you, after all this is a difficult thing to digest, but I will not tolerate such stubbornness. If this is to work out in both our favors, I am going to need your full cooperation.”
“I already said that I-“
“Indeed, you were most agreeable on the phone,” Zola cut in, replacing his glasses and then pushing them up the bridge of his nose. Satisfied, he again turned to walk down the hall. A sharp jab in your back from the barrel of a rifle sent you following after him. “But now I need you to be cooperative. Do you see the difference?”
“I’m not sure I understand. I came here. I burned all my papers, just like you said, and I didn’t tell a soul, I swear!” you didn’t realize how quickly your voice was rising. “I did just as you asked, so please! Let me see him!”
“That is going to have to stop as well,” he replied, shaking his head sadly. “You don’t want to see him right now, I assure you.”
He paused and seemed to consider you for a moment. “Alright, but don’t say I didn’t warn you,” he nodded and changed his course, leading you down a side hall toward a large room illuminated by several bright, surgical lights. You frowned, pushing past Zola as soon as he opened the door. There, in the middle of the room, strapped down to a surgical gurney, was Bucky.
“Oh my god!” you cried, hands pressed against your mouth as you stood there at his side, staring down at him. Several wires connected him to various machines, and you couldn’t even begin to describe the contraption that was attached to his head or what the rubber guard in his mouth was needed for, but the worst part was his arm. Where there was once smooth, tanned flesh was now cold, hard metal. You reached out to touch it, choked sobs breaking past your lips and tears on your cheeks, but you somehow kept standing. “What have you done? What have you done to him?!”
“Saved his life,” Zola answered, gesturing at the one of your escort soldiers. He took you by the upper arm and pulled you back, holding you despite how you struggled. “He is improved now and I am going to continue to make him better. I’ll turn him into the solider he could have never been on his own. He will be the perfect weapon and he will change this world.”
“No!” you shook your head, “Why? Why Bucky?”
“Opportunity,” Zola answered, walking toward one of the large computers to key in a few quick commands. “Plus, I could not waste all the work I’ve already done on him. Your husband’s body is exceptionally adaptable, it took to my serum almost immediately, and I am eager to see what else it can do.”
“You…You experimented on him?” you asked and Zola nodded. “Why?”
“For HYDRA,” he answered and you paled, the truth of what you agreed to hitting you square in the chest. HYDRA. You had agreed…to work with HYDRA. “Surprised, Mrs. Barnes?”
“Disgusted,” you spat, sounding much braver than you felt, since you on the verge of fainting or at the very least losing your lunch. “You lied to me.”
“I did no such thing. I told you it was possible to see him again and here he is, before your very eyes, good as he has always been!”
“No!” you shook your head again, gritting your teeth against the tears that threatened to fall. You would not cry. You would not show weakness in front of this man, this madman! No, you were a soldier’s wife. Peggy would never…Peggy! “I won’t let you do this. Not after all the destruction, the death, that HYDRA has caused! I’ll stop all this, the SSR will come, and you’ll go to prison where you belong, you sick, disillusioned, crazy-!”
His screams cut you off and you instantly shut up, turning wide eyes on Bucky whose visible eye was wide and whose body had jackknifed off the table. He screamed against the mouth guard, teeth bared and hands clenched into fists, his muscles taunt against his restraints, and in that moment, you swore the sound would tear your heart from your chest.
“Stop!” you screamed, running to his side and grabbing onto him, holding him with every ounce of strength you could muster. You clung to him, hands on his shoulders. “Stop it! Stop! You’re going to kill him! Stop!” you begged and suddenly Bucky relaxed, the noise of the machine quieting, and you noticed Zola’s computer screen had gone blank. You all but fell on top of him. Though his body was slick with swear, and he stilled moaned in pain, he was calm.
“Now that you’re listening, Mrs. Barnes,” Zola started, “Despite our best efforts and advanced scientific methods, he is still highly uncooperative. His natural instincts to fight, I believe, but it is also my belief that I can counter these instinctual flaws with a, how do you say, a familiar face.”
“What?” you asked, breathless, as you stroked Bucky’s damp, long hair. He never kept it this long. This was wrong. Bucky always had short hair.
“I need your help, Mrs. Barnes,” Zola continued, “A man always listens to his wife.”
You looked up sharply, realizing what it was that Zola wanted you to do. He wanted to help him control Bucky, to calm him and quell any rebellion in his spirits, as they turned him into a “better soldier”. A machine. He wanted you to help him turn Bucky into a monster. “No. Never. I will never help you.”
“It’s why you came here,” Zola reminded you, “If you refuse, I will have you killed and will continue without you. I am giving you an opportunity, a chance, to stay by your husband’s side, but only if you cooperate. Do you see the difference now?”
“Yes,” you whispered, nodding slowly. “I understand, but I will never help you.”
“Then perhaps you need a bit more persuasion,” Zola said, stepping back to his computer and raising a hand to again type in the commands.
“No!” you shouted, reaching out for him as if you could stop him from this distance, as if your fingers might reach, but even as you strained your muscles, you could not stop him. “No, please! Not again! Don’t hurt him!”
“Have you had a change of mind, Mrs. Barnes? Will you agree?”
“Okay,” you nodded, straightening up and relinquishing your hold on Bucky, yours hands slipping from his metal arm. “Yes, I’ll help you.”
“Excellent, excellent! That’s my good girl!” his accented voice came through your earpiece as you stood there steadying your breaths and calming your racing heart. “Go on and take a break now. That’s enough for today.”
“Yes, Sir,” you answered without thinking, your automatic response anytime he spoke to you directly, and walked across the padded room and through the door. It sealed shut behind you and you stripped, tossing your sweat soaked clothes into the bin and moved to the shower. Cold water hit your burning skin and you shuddered, closing your eyes for just a moment and then you were still. The shower would only run for five minutes, but you only needed four to get clean, so you savored your single minute of peace. “Good girl for the day,” you repeated to yourself, opening your eyes and letting out a long breath before you took to scrubbing the blood from your skin.
Cleaned and redressed, you walked the hall in silence, no one sparing you a word or a glance, and quickly made your way toward your quarters where you would sleep for a few hours before being summoned again. You stopped though, remembering and glanced at the clock. They would be finished with him by now, you thought, changing your course suddenly and heading toward the lab and simulation unit. Yes, he would have done enough for the day too, just like you. You waited outside the door for the scientists to leave, nodding to them when they looked at you, and then slipped inside before the door shut. He was still there, sitting on the surgical table, clenching and unclenching his fists. “Did they adjust your arm?”
“Upgrades,” he answered, standing and turning to face you. He was so much taller than you, but you didn’t feel as if he towered over you. Perhaps that was because you knew you could match him in a fight. “Are you not on duty today?”
“No sick patients,” you answered, falling into step with him when he turned to leave, keeping stride with him as he walked down the hall, heavy boots pounding on the metal floor. You looked over at him, noting how similar your outfits were. Black pants, blank fitted shirt and boots. What a silly thing to notice, you thought. “And nothing else to do.”
“Hm,” was all he said in response, so you just looked ahead, turning when he did and walked beside him in silence. You didn’t know where he was going, or why he was going there, but that didn’t bother you. This was not the first time you’d followed the soldier through HYDRA halls. “Spar with me.”
“Okay,” you answered, giving him a single nod before silence fell over you again. Ah, so that was it. He was going out. He only ever asked to spar before a mission and that also explained why he was out walking around, and not frozen in his cryostasis pod. You wondered where he was going this time, but knew better than to ask. He wouldn’t tell you anyway. You were just his nurse, or on off days like today, his sparring partner. “Where?”
“The Basement,” he answered and you nodded. He must not be leaving the city then, you thought, since he only wanted to spar in the regular boxing ring. How curious. The two of you took the elevator down to the lowest level of the bunker, past two levels of security, and into what could have been the most low-tech area of the entire HYDRA base. It was nothing more than a room filled with boxing equipment, from punching bags to weights, all circled around a large ring in the center. “No gloves. Just wraps”
“Okay,” you answered with another short nod. You let him wrap your fingers, watching him wind the fabric in and around your fingers, before he did his right hand and then climbed into the ring. You followed, taking a moment to pin your hair back from your face. “On three?”
“Three,” he nodded in agreement and then it started, the elite soldier rushing you before you could finishing counting.
Your sparring match lasted exactly thirteen and a half minutes before a well-aimed blow from his fist sent you tumbling back and half through the ropes. You hung there for a moment, spitting blood onto the floor, before you held up your hand in surrender. He retreated immediately. You dropped down to sit and wrapped an arm around your middle, counting the bumps of your broken ribs. He did not go easy on you. He never did. “Six.”
“And your face?” he asked, offering you a hand up. You took it, letting him pull you and then stood before him, your vision a bit blurred but otherwise seeing him clearly. His lip was split, and there was a bruise on his jaw, but otherwise he was unharmed.
“It’ll heal,” you answered, tenderly touching your probably fractured cheekbone and licking the blood from your lip. It didn’t bother you. You were always quick to recover. “Next time, I keep my knives.”
“So I can risk a blade to the liver?” he asked, quirking a brow before turning to leave you. You watched him, only stepping down from the ring when he returned with a bag of ice. He pressed it to your cheek, not gently but you’d take the gesture. “Did I go too hard on you?”
“No, I can take it,” you answered, shaking your head slightly. You took the ice so he could remove his hand, but instead of letting it fall, he used his thumb to wipe the blood that had gathered on your lip. You let him. He looked at the blood on his fingers before wiping it on the rag that hung from his waistband. “When do you leave?”
“Eight days, give or take.”
“I’ll stitch you up when you get back,” you told him and he stopped, for he had begun to turn away again, and looked back at you. He stared hard, his dark eyes suddenly seeing more of you than you thought possible, and it was as if you stood naked before him, exposed and hidden by nothing. Not lies, not mask, not trick or slight of wit. It was the first time the soldier’s gaze had sent your heart racing.
“Always?” he asked and, after a moment, you nodded.
“I would enter your sleep if I could, and guard you there, and slay the thing that hounds you, as I would if it had the courage to face me in fair daylight, but I cannot come in unless you dream of me.”
“It’ll just be a little stick, Ms. [Name].”
“Just [Name] is fine, Dr. Banner,” you corrected him, giving him a little smile. He glanced up at you, glasses low on his nose before nodding and looking back down at your arm. You were laying on a medical table, Dr. Banner on his rolling stool beside you, and it had been about ten minutes since Steve left you in here. There was a one-way mirror to you left, though, so you didn’t mind. Besides, you knew of Dr. Banner and found no problem with him, so long as you didn’t piss him off. “Is the blood sample the last thing you’ll need?”
“Yes, that should do it,” he answered, filling a few test tubes with blood before sticking a band-aid on the site and rolling away, putting them in a centrifuge before hitting a button and turning back to you. “All done. Thank you for being so cooperative.”
“No problem,” you answered, sitting up and hanging your legs over the table. Dr. Banner stood, removed his gloves and lab coat and then went toward the door.
“I think Tony wants to get a body scan, so if you’ll just stay in here for me,” he said, giving you a small smile. You nodded, watching him disappear through the door before looking forward and watching as your blood results started to popup on the monitor across from you.
[ Steve’s POV ]
“It’ll take about half an hour to get all the tests back,” Bruce Banner, resident scientist, and sometimes raging green threat, of Avenger’s Tower told Steve as he passed the super soldier on his way to his desk. Steve nodded and looked back through the one-way mirror, watching [Name] sit there and swing her legs idly back and forth. Tony and Bruce had insisted they run some tests, to figure out what had been done to [Name], since they didn’t think it logical at all to just ask her, so Steve had agreed and stood aside with Sam as test after test was done. So far, nothing. “I think I like her. She’s nice.”
“She threatened to shoot me,” Sam put in and Steve rolled his eyes, shaking his head at Sam.
“How long are you going to be upset about that?”
“Until I’m done being offended,” Sam answered, to which Tony held up his glass of whiskey in agreement, and then went to get himself something to eat and drink from the nearby bar. Steve watched him go before looking back at [Name], unable to stop staring at her. He’d watched her in the mirror all the way from Brooklyn, listening to her mumble in her sleep and wishing he knew what plagued her. What had she been through, he wondered, to make her look so pained as she slept? What had been done to her? Steve had so many questions about her, but not a single answer, even after all of Tony’s tests.
Even with her back to him, Steve could picture her face, but it was hard to pair it with the face from his memories. Where she had once been bright, happy and full of smiles, Steve only saw sadness now, pain and hurt that he could somehow relate to, and though she had still smiled at him a few times, they were not like the ones he remembered. It worried him. What had been done to her to kill the [Name] he remembered? The [Name] he loved?
“Alright, darling,” Steve looked over at Tony’s voice, raising a brow at him. Darling? “JARVIS is just gonna do a quick body scan, nothing fancy, but if you could strip down to your under most garments, that’d be most helpful.”
“Tony!” Steve started, appalled and marched over to take the microphone just as [Name] started to remove her shirt. “No, no, [Name]. You don’t have to do that. I’m sure JARVIS can do the scan just fine with all your clothes on.”
“Actually, given the nature of the scan, it would be most helpful, Captain Rogers,” JARVIS answered and Steve relented, ignoring Tony’s smug grin and respectfully turning away as [Name] removed her outer layers. “Arms up, please, Ms. [Name].”
She did as instructed and Steve, almost despite himself, spared a glance over his shoulder. Then he found himself staring. Scars, they were the first thing he noticed, but the lean, curve of her defined muscles did not in any way escape his notice. He could see them when she shifted, the way they moved beneath her skin, and Steve was certain she had not had muscles like that when he had known her. And her hair! It was cropped short, revealing the nape of her neck and the curve of her collarbones, but left long in the front and swept in soft waves off to the side, above her left eye. It was so different and this short hair only made it harder for him to see his [Name] in the woman before him. His [Name]. He really should stop calling her that.
“All done, darling.” Tony announced and [Name] redressed, standing there in front of the mirror and staring back at Steve as if she’d known he’d been watching the entire time. He flushed suddenly and looked away, ignoring how Sam laughed at him. “Alright, now we just wait on the tests and we’ll know more about your girl than she knows about herself. Give it half an hour-“
“If you want to know so badly-“ [Name] tapped on the glass, gaining everyone’s attention with a single gesture. “Just ask and I’ll tell you.”
“Supersonic hearing,” Bruce muttered, looking over at Tony. [Name] just laughed and shook her head.
“No, Stark left the microphone on.”
“They called it Chimera,” you explained, sitting on the couch opposite Steve, and Sam, and Tony, since no one seemed to want to sit by you. You held a steaming cup of coffee and a half-eaten scone, but other than that, you hadn’t asked for anything, despite how Steve offered. “It was one of the replica serums they produced in hopes of copying Dr. Erskine’s results-“ you gestured briefly to Steve. “But none of them were quite the same. They were close with Bucky, though, probably one of the closer results.”
“What did it do to you?” Tony asked, “Besides keep you incredibly gorgeous.”
“Chimera alters DNA,” you answered simply, give him a brief glance. “It turns the weak into strong soldiers, gives the sick ironclad immune systems, and in some cases, it has been known to enhance brain function and memory, producing almost eidetic effects in some tests subjects.”
“Myself,” you shrugged, “I remember everything, even things from before I was given Chimera, and of course, everything after. Though, they weren’t expecting that, and they did try a mind wipe on me, but it didn’t hold.”
“Mind wipe?” Sam asked and you looked at him, surprised he was even interested. You weren’t sure he even liked you.
“Brainwashing, if that’s easier to understand. It’s actually a process and it’s meant to clear out memories, emotions, even suppress natural instincts. It can be done repeatedly, should the need arise, but Chimera eventually reversed the effects and ta da. I’m full of memories again.”
“So, what else can you do?” he asked, still looking directly at you. You held his gaze, curious as to Sam Wilson’s sudden interest in you. Had he gotten over his outrage from earlier?
“Just the basics,” you answered with a shrug, “Harder, better, faster-“
“That’s a song,” he interrupted, dead-panned, frowning as you. He was clearly unimpressed by your attempt at joking around with him. That or he did not appreciate the fact that you had even tried.
“Enhanced strength, speed, endurance. Increased mental capacity, quicker reaction time thanks to enhanced reflexes, and a talent for knife throwing.”
“Oh, is that all?” he asked, quirking a brow at you. You just smiled.
“It’s true,” Bruce interrupted suddenly, coming over with a handful of papers, charts and printouts of lab results. “What she’s saying. Her cells have been genetically altered in a way that is not natural. They’re astounding, actually. I’ve been testing them. You heal quickly, don’t you?”
“Quicker than average,” you answered with a nod. “Bones take a bit longer to mend.”
“It’s amazing,” Bruce murmured to himself, “Your cells are amazingly resilient. Their structural integrity is completely different from a normal human’s-ah, no offense.”
“No, none taken.”
“Are you as old as Steve?”
“A few years his younger,” you answered, “But yes, I was born about the same time.”
“Amazing,” he said again, “And you haven’t aged? Your cells show no sign of cryostasis, of ever being frozen, or being in suspended animation. You just haven’t aged.”
“I’m not immortal, though,” you told him, “Chimera just slows the aging process. It’s unknown how long I could actually live.”
“You’re quite repetitive, Dr. Banner,” you told him with a small smile. Flustered by that, he just turned away and looked through his papers. “I assure you I’m not amazing. I’m ordinary compared to some of the other things HYDRA has created.”
“HYDRA?” Steve finally spoke and you looked over at him, studying his face for a quiet moment before nodding. “That’s who’s had you? All this time?”
“Yes,” you answered, nodding again. “Since a bit after the war ended.”
“[Name], I don’t mean to sound forward,” Bruce started, “But if I could run a few more tests, nothing invasive and only the minimal amount needed to answer a few questions that I have…”
“A few?” you asked, the corner of your mouth just starting to twitch into a grin.
“A couple dozen at the most. If you don’t’ mind, of course.”
“Not a problem, Dr. Banner,” you answered, setting your coffee aside and standing to follow the doctor from the room. You glanced back at Steve, who was watching you with those blue eyes you so easily loved, but then the elevator door shut and he was gone.
Despite his insistence that it wouldn’t take long, Dr. Banner had kept you late into the evening, past dinner and well through dessert, but finally he took you to a spare room in the tower and left you alone with only JARVIS, who was surprisingly good company, to talk to. Unable to sleep, you had wandered out into the common room, a giant space filled with large couches and chairs, to sit and watch television. That was where he found you.
“That used to be you,” he said, standing the doorway. You turned to look at him and smiled a little, nodding. “Why aren’t you on the couch? It’s a lot nicer than the table.”
“It’s too soft,” you murmured, turning back to the television. Pearl Harbor, you’d heard of it, but you had never had time for movies. It was terribly over dramatic, you thought, and a bit romanticized. “I wasn’t a triage nurse, though. Stitcher, is what Millie used to call me. I was the best with a needle.”
“You had a lot of practice,” Steve remarked, coming to sit beside you, the table groaning a bit beneath his weight. He didn’t seem bothered. For a moment, the two of you just watched the movie in silence until finally he looked at you. “[Name], earlier when you said you remembered everything, do you mean that? Everything?”
“Yes,” you nodded, “I didn’t for a while. It was ten years in when they first decided to wipe me. Three times after that and they were satisfied. Even with Chimera, I was a blank slate and that was when my training started. For a while I was still me, but now I’m this,” you gestured to yourself with a harsh laugh and a shake of your head.
“Which is what?” Steve asked and you frowned, lowering your eyes to floor before looking at him. He looked the same too, you thought, but you knew about what happened to him. HYDRA knew everything.
“An enemy,” you answered lowly, looking away from him again. “It all, um, happened in a rush one day, my memories coming back. It took me days to sort it all out and make sense of it again. I remembered my name first. Then his. Then yours. I had never been so confused, but the hardest part was remembering all the things I’d done. If this is what Bucky is going through…” you stopped and clenched your jaw
“You didn’t know,” Steve said, “Just like Buck. You didn’t know what you were doing.”
“No, I knew,” you insisted, pushing yourself up from the table and walking over to the window, arms wrapped tightly around your waist. You leaned against the glass, watching Steve’s reflection as he approached you. "Did you miss what I said? They didn't wipe me until ten years in, Steve. For ten years I knew."
“[Name] would never hurt Bucky.”
“I knew what they were doing to him,” you whispered, deciding that Steve needed to know the truth before this went any further, before he put any faith in you, before he started to forgive you. You took a deep breath and closed your eyes, replaying that day in your mind before opening your eyes again to stare at Steve’s reflection. "It was Arnim Zola that called me, told me I could see him, see you eventually, so long as I did as I was told."
“I did exactly as he asked. I only hesitated for a moment. He took me to Bucky the day I arrived and I saw him. I saw what they had done. They had already replaced his arm and they were just about to wipe him for the first time. He screamed so loud.”
“You don’t have to tell me this,” Steve started, already moving toward you, but you just turned and leaned back against the glass, arms still crossed as you stared at him. He slowed and eventually stopped to just stand in front of you, staring at your face and silently pleading for you to stop. You could still read him so well, even after all this time. He was still Stevie, just bigger. “Please don’t tell me this.”
“I begged Zola to stop and he said he would if I was cooperative. If I did as I had agreed to do. That was his favorite word, cooperative. Good girls are cooperative,” you kept on, refusing to relent, to spare him from the truth, and so you held his gaze as you destroyed what little faith he’d put in you. “He said that even after the treatments that Bucky was still rebellious, still strong-willed enough to resist them. He was uncooperative, so they wanted someone he would listen to, someone who would persuade him into being more agreeable. They wanted a face he recognized. They wanted the woman who could bend his will.”
"That's why they gave me Chimera," you went on, talking in a rush as everything spilled out, your mouth working faster than your brain. "So I wouldn't age, so my face would always be the one Bucky knew, so I would stay the same, just as he did, and that was what they needed. They needed the woman he knew."
"I don't believe-"
“So I did as I was told and I stayed and I watched them turn him into the soldier. A mindless, emotionless killer. A machine, a tool for them to use, and I helped give them the greatest weapon HYDRA has ever had. I helped them and I knew it. I treated his wounds every time he came back, I gave him antibiotics and pain killers, and then I put him back to sleep so they could freeze him again, and then I was there when he woke up. Always and I remember all of it. I was with him, by his side, all this time.”
“No,” Steve shook his head. “You couldn’t have. You would never hurt Bucky.”
"There were so many times I could have kill him," you told him, walking up to him so you were only a few feet away, close enough to touch him if you wanted. God, he was just as you remembered him, his presence was overwhelming, and it enveloped you in warmth, a strength you hadn't felt in decades. It was how Steve had always made you feel. Safe... "I would have been so easy! Just a little air in the line, the wrong dose of medication, or a knife to the throat if I wanted a little more drama, but I could never do it. I tried, Steve, I swear I tried!"
"[Name], maybe you should calm down," Steve tried, putting his hands on your shoulders, so you fell forward and put your forehead against his chest, breathing in the smell of his shirt. He stiffened but didn't move his hands. "It's okay, [Nickname]."
"That must be easy for you to say," you whispered, "You've been asleep for most of this, it's only been a few years for you, but I've been awake, Steve. Since 1945, I've been awake."
"I know," was all Steve mumbled back, his voice low you felt his hands slid to your shoulders so he could pull you closer against him. One hand slid down your back to your waist and his other arm completely wrapped around your shoulders. He wouldn't let you go now, even if you struggled, so you just leaned into him. A hug, you thought, how long had it been since your last hug? "I'm sorry."
"I couldn't leave him. Zola said that it didn't matter what I did because he would continue his work on Bucky anyway. They would kill me and then Bucky would be alone," you gritted your teeth, pressing your face harder against Steve's chest. "I couldn't leave him alone."
"You stayed with him," Steve told you and you pulled back, looking up at him. He looked hurt, his face pinched and tired, and his jaw was set so tightly you wondered how the muscles didn't snap. His hand dug painfully in your lower back, but the hand that had once been on your shoulders had slid up to brace the back of your neck. You stared at him, fixed on his so very blue eyes. "Just as you vowed to always do. I forgive you."
"Please don't," you whispered, pushing yourself up on your toes to catch up his lips in the kiss you knew he had always wanted.
You and Steve didn't talk much about the past after that, instead focusing on the present task of finding Bucky, but at least there was no awkward tension. Steve didn't touch you, though, didn't sit as closely to you as he did before, but by some weird happenstance, Sam seemed to have accepted you. Ever since the morning the two waited in line for coffees, he had treated you as a team member, not a rogue HYDRA assassin, and even joked with you now and again. In fact, lately, he talked to you more than Steve did, but you didn't blame the super soldier. The hurricane in his head had to be just like your own.
"There used to be a HYDRA base lab under this building," you said, looking up at Sam and Steve. The three of you were huddled around a map of DC, which was the next place you thought it logical to look for Bucky. HYDRA had bases all over DC, you and Bucky had spent countless years there, so you figured it might be familiar enough for him to return there, even if the memories weren't happy ones. "It was the one we using when you guys first encountered Bucky."
"I thought SHIELD raided all the HYDRA labs," Sam said, quirking a brow at you. You briefly wondered how he would have known that, but then figured he'd been spending a lot of time with Steve and that the man must have told him. You wondered what else the two had shared.
"They did," Steve answered, "But it would still be there. They didn't destroy the building. You think he'd go back to a lab?" he asked you and you shrugged, folding the map and putting it back into the folder.
"Maybe," you answered honestly, "He hasn't been anywhere else we've looked and HYDRA labs were all he knew for the years he was awake. If his memories are coming back, he's going to be confused, and he'll seek out a place that's familiar. As twisted as it is, those labs were our home."
"So let's check it out," Sam nodded in agreement. "It's worth a try. Like she said, all the other places have been a bust."
"Alright, agreed," Steve nodded, "SHIELD likely had them locked," he said, looking at you but you recognized the tiny smile that tugged at the corners of his lips. You just shrugged.
"SHIELD's never stopped me before."
"So SHIELD cleared all this out, huh?" you asked, walking between Steve and Sam through the dark halls of the once active HYDRA lab. The generators still worked, causing the lights to flicker and the low of hum of the air-conditioner to fill the air, but you all still held flashlights. And guns. Sam had insisted on the guns.
"Yeah, far as I knew," Steve nodded, looking up from the map you'd drawn him of the base lab. "They took everything."
"It does feel emptier," you muttered, chewing on the inside of your cheek as you walked. Despite being dressed casually, Steve had outfitted you with a vest, Sam had his wings and Steve carried his shield on his back. Stark technology, or so you'd been told. You half wondered what they expected to encounter down here. "We should split up. This place is big and it'll take us hours to cover it all."
"It can't be that big," Sam frowned at you, as if he thought you might be lying.
"It spans the block," you answered, putting your fingers together and then outlining a square in the air. "The entire block and there are levels. Multiple levels, so unless you want to spend the entire night searching this place, we split up."
"Steve?" Sam looked over you at the other man, raising his brow in question. Sam may have liked you a little more, but that didn't mean he trusted you. Steve finally nodded.
"Is there cell service down here?" he asked and you nodded, "Then we check in every hour. We stop at midnight and meet on ground level. Agreed?" he asked and you both nodded. Steve sent you off in different directions, leaving you to take the stairs lower and deeper into the lab in which you once lived. You turned off your flashlight, you didn't need it, and quickly shed the vest Steve had made you wear. You didn't need it either and it made you feel heavy, bogged down by the extra weight, so you stuffed it in a dark corner and continued on, footsteps silent in the darkness. You knew your way by memory, bypassing the area Steve had instructed you to search and instead going deeper still.
"You think I'd leave your side, baby," you sang quietly, walking past rows of doors toward a single, double-door at the end of the hall. The red medical cross, divided by the doors, stirred up countless memories in your mind and you walked faster, simply knowing it was where you needed to be.
"When you're lost and you're alone and you can't get back again," you still sang, "I will find you, darling, and I will bring you home," your words died away and you pushed open the doors to the nursing ward, not at all surprised to find the lights already on and a lone figure standing next to the operating table. You stopped and smiled, setting your gun on the nearby counter before approaching him.
"There you are," you said fondly, letting your voice drop into the soft, calm tone you were used to using with him. "I've finally found you, Bucky."