Sitwell's smug face was just a stain on the front of a Mack truck now, and Steve was cursing himself virulently for wearing civilian clothing with only his skintight under-armor gear for protection; the khakis he'd hastily pulled on after Fort Meade weren't exactly going to hold up in a battle. Plus, Natasha had told him (unsolicited) they didn't flatter his ass either, and really he should just burn them all and stick with jeans, which were closer to the weight of his uniform anyway. What the Winter Soldier was wearing, sleek and dark and dangerous, looked like it would last him through a nuclear war and not sprout holes for any embarrassing displays of long underwear.
Steve shook his head as Sam fought for control of the car and Natasha vaulted into his lap, yanked him out of the way of one bullet, and kicked Sam out of the way of the next. He had to get it in gear and do something, not just sit here like a (long-underweared) lump.
His suit had extra Vibranium-attuned magnets in the forearms, laid out like gauntlets, and he was missing those, but at least the t-shirt and light jacket he was wearing wouldn't block the magnetic strips in his thin, insulating tac shirt; his shield would stay securely on his arm once he fixed it into place. He adjusted it to his right arm, grabbed Sam to curl him over Natasha, and slammed his shoulder into the door of the car. The three of them skidded along the asphalt, sparks flying up from the tobogganing door of Sam's poor battered car, and then Sam lost his grip and rolled away, and Steve grimaced at the thought of Sam being no better off than his car. Steve jumped to his feet as soon as he and Natasha careened to a stop, pushing her out of the way when the Winter Soldier took aim with a gun that was uncomfortably reminiscent of those blue-fire weapons Hydra had used back in the war (he'd seen them more recently, too, because SHIELD had been busy; how had it taken everyone so long to realize what SHIELD was at its core?).
He deflected the blast with his shield, bouncing the blue fire at billiards angles to take out three of the minions who seemed to be around only to provide their best man with further tools of destruction; it was enough to stop the Winter Soldier in his tracks. The Soldier had looked set to follow Natasha, who'd gone to regroup with Sam, but he cocked his head at an inquisitive angle when he saw what the shield could do, and nodded. The movement meant that Natasha's shot caught him in the goggles instead of the cortex (Steve had the epiphany for the hundredth time: that girl was unbelievably impressive), and the Soldier whipped them off like he'd never needed them. The minions still standing next to the Soldier turned and fired toward Nat and Sam, and so Steve leapt off the bridge, aiming for a setting less littered with hostages to fortune; he felt the ground shake as the Soldier followed, landing on a car and stalking off it like a lynx, knife already in his hand.
The Soldier was as deadly as Steve remembered, but even faster and nimbler when he was on the offensive than he'd been when he was running away after assassinating Fury. That retreat must have chafed, gone completely against the grain, because the Soldier was paying no mind to his own safety now that they were facing off. Without the goggles he looked pale and tired and so young. (Steve could imagine someone pressing the goggles into the Soldier's hand and praying for his safe return.)
Steve kept the shield between them as best he could, letting it absorb the blows and block the shining paths the knife carved into the air. His arms ached from the considerable weight of it, from the relentless pace of the fight, and the Soldier seemed tireless, not just attacking but thinking, strategizing how best to break him completely. Those eyes (they looked like sapphires slowly drained of their pigment, like the blue was a magic elixir or that deadly fire) were calculating fiercely, and all Steve could do was react, one step behind.
That was when the Soldier grabbed the edge of the shield and flipped it, sending Steve askew in the air, breaking him apart from it. Steve had no idea how he'd defend himself against his own weapon (he'd liked that it was a defensive tool he'd transformed unexpectedly into a mode of attack) and waited, his hands up like he was still that skinny punk in a Brooklyn alley, once the ground was beneath his feet again. Once more the Soldier threw away an advantage, flinging the shield away; it lodged in the back of a nearby van, and Steve charged. His forearms smashed repeatedly into the Soldier's, quick and brutal blows that miraculously kept the knife from his skin.
And then the Soldier whirled like a tornado and Steve stepped forward into the shadows cast by the bridge, catching him mid-spin, and they made full-body contact, both of them grunting from the impact. The Soldier's back was pressed against Steve's heaving chest, Steve's arms closing around the Soldier's torso and overlaying his.
Neither of them, apparently, had anticipated that the Soldier's arm might be made of the same metal as the shield, or that the magnetic strips woven into the sleeves of Steve's tac shirt would immobilize the Soldier's terrifying left arm. Idiotically, they both shook their left arms, which only confirmed that they were joined together. Steve figured the Soldier's next move would be to rear his head back and try to break his nose, so he pushed forward pre-emptively, his nose threading through the Soldier's loose hair and landing against the shell of his right ear.
Steve underwent a double assault in a single heart-wracking instant. The tip of his nose landed in a peculiar divot of cartilage, a divot he knew intimately (somehow his nose had always found that particular spot – the only imperfection visible on that strong and certain body – to nuzzle). And the smell of the skin at the hinge of the Soldier's jaw was rich and familiar (oh, he knew the scent of that soft skin). The Soldier went still as Steve scented him like an animal, and stayed still even when Steve's right hand, trembling visibly, rose to his face.
Steve intended to wrench it away but his fingers wouldn't cooperate, and it was only luck and sheer bloody-minded persistence that made the Soldier's mask finally fall away. The tip of Steve's pinky finger slid along the length of a stubbled jaw (not even during the war had they worn facial hair) and came to rest in the cleft of a determined chin.
"Bucky," he said, but his voice was caught in his chest. He shivered, not just from standing in the cool shadow of the bridge as the sounds of gunfire raged above them.
The man in his arms stayed locked and rigid against him, utterly still as if he couldn't even breathe.
"Bucky," Steve said again, this time putting a voice to his desperate breath.
There was a flurry of movement then, a quick pivot that kept their left arms joined but turned the two of them facing each other. It really was Bucky, that face loved and missed and longed for every minute he'd been in the ice, but a Bucky who didn't know him in return; there was puzzlement and panic written in the frown crinkling his face.
"Who the hell is Bucky?"
There was no concealing cowl to strip off, no uniform to tear away. He stood before Bucky undisguised. "The best of me," he said, forcing himself to stand still as Bucky brought his right hand up to peel his left arm free of Steve's unwitting trap.
"Hydra wants all of you dead," Bucky said evenly. They were no longer touching but Bucky hadn't taken a step back. Steve could feel the magnets straining to join them together again, heedless of what Bucky wanted. He tucked his arm against his hip as a precautionary measure.
"'S why I'm fighting. Had 'em on the ropes till you," Steve said, lifting his chin.
A smile trembled into being on Bucky's mouth and vanished a moment later. "I –"
The sound the metal arm made then interrupted Bucky's incipient declaration. Steve watched the ripples of it, metal plates shifting smoothly in a way that was entirely mechanical and too alien to be biological; the beauty of it made him shiver like the same motion was chasing itself up his spine. When Steve looked up, Bucky's eyes were fixed on his mouth, like Bucky was remembering how Steve used to skim his face down Bucky's arms, chest, spine, letting his lips catch against skin at unhurried intervals.
"Buck –" he pressed.
Bucky made a complete, impatient loop with his metal arm, rotating it fully in its socket instead of answering him. "Who are you?"
He couldn't have been imagining that flash of memory that had streaked across Bucky's uncovered face, that dawning smile. "I'm Steve, you know me –"
"Who are you that Hydra wants you dead?" Bucky was neither giving nor asking quarter, and Steve's heart throbbed in his chest, so worked up it barely remembered how to beat.
"I – I've been fighting them for so long. They're poisoning the world, Buck." Bucky was still waiting, implacable, and Steve tried again to answer the question. "I'm Captain America."
The name must not have meant anything to Bucky – to the Soldier. "Why haven't you fought me before?"
Bucky had liked to yell (actually, that was a lie, Bucky had never enjoyed chastising Steve but he'd done it every time Steve had forced his hand) that Steve needed to stop and think for once in his goddamn life but of course he wouldn't because he got too much of a kick out of doing whatever the hell he pleased, didn't he?
Steve didn't see the point in changing courses now. Bucky had always saved him no matter what he did.
"Because when I had you, I was doing this," he said, nuzzling his nose against the soft, thin skin behind Bucky's ear, just where the lines of a long, strong throat began to flow down to shapely clavicles. "Loving you, Buck," he murmured before his mouth subsided into a warm quiver against Bucky's cheekbone.
"No." Bucky was in full Soldier mode. He had always been in Soldier mode; he was still holding the knife, and the tip of it was pressing gently against Steve's jackrabbiting heart, where there was no uniform to turn the blade aside. "I cannot be the one you sought."
"You are." Bucky's eyes flashed dangerously at that but his knife didn't waver by so much as a breath. "I can't prove it, but I know it."
"When did you love me? You say you have been fighting Hydra for so long – perhaps as long as I have fought for them. When would you have loved me?" Bucky's voice was not crescendoing, but tightening, and not even during the war had Steve heard words that carried so much of the agonizing weight of an animal's howl of despair. "How could you have lost me?"
"I wasn't" – smart enough, fast enough, strong enough, good enough – "enough," Steve said, kneeling in front of his Soldier, his Bucky, and tipping his head forward to bare the nape of his neck. The last thing he saw before he closed his eyes was the Soldier's mask face-down next to his knee. And then all he could see was Bucky's face, petrified by fear, as he fell from the train.
He couldn't even hear Bucky's long-ago scream over the sound of his own panting breaths, too many, too quick. The Soldier was entirely still and silent above him.
Then Bucky's hand cupped his chin, startling him badly. Bucky's thumb came up to brush tenderly at the moisture on his cheek, which was worse. He didn't even know he'd been crying – no, Buck's thumb was red, which meant Steve had sliced his cheek against Bucky's knife in his haste to offer his neck to it instead. The knife was cradled inside the mask, which was rocking cheek-to-cheek against the asphalt from the impact the dropped knife had made, and Steve was kneeling like a supplicant as Bucky prodded carefully at his self-inflicted wound. (Bucky was a healer, not his personal Doubting Thomas.)
"You will mend," the Soldier pronounced.
That wasn't the part that Steve was questioning. "With you?" he asked, looking up. Bucky's long hair hung in lank strips against his face, shadowing it further; the mouth Steve had loved for so long was paler than he'd ever seen it, ghostly.
He would swear that Bucky chucked his chin at that, though there was a pause before he responded. "Get up."
Ignoring the hole in the knee of his stupid khakis, Steve grabbed the knife when he stood so he could offer it back to Bucky; beyond its utility, it was something Bucky had clearly spent hundreds of hours holding, and Steve wasn't going to be the one to rip it away. "Here."
Bucky had storms in his eyes when he looked at the line of metal lying on Steve's open palm, but he moved as fluidly as ever to reclaim the knife and stash it on his person. Steve got lost trying to follow all the complications of the Soldier's black-on-black uniform and he looked back up to see Bucky leading the way to the van that the shield was still stuck in. Out of the shadows of the bridge, Bucky's metal arm caught the sunlight and flared into beauty like it was purely decorative.
There was no more gunfire, Steve realized belatedly. Sam and Nat must have shut down the Hydra threat and regrouped somewhere safer. He wanted to believe that they'd welcome Bucky, if he could just get him to join them. (He wanted to believe he could keep Bucky even if he couldn't explain how they were living and young and together.) Bucky effortlessly pulled the shield free and handed it over, formal like he owed Steve for retrieving his knife. Steve heard the magnets click the shield into place on his arm and turned, surprised, when he heard the other set of magnets engage. Bucky had placed his metal arm along Steve's free arm, binding them together. "With you," Bucky said, like being shoulder-to-shoulder with him was the only possible outcome of the two of them being set loose and told to destroy each other.
Steve pushed his luck; Bucky had always saved him. "Kiss for luck?" he asked, tilting his head. Bucky eyed him and hoisted the shield up so that it cast its shadow over their faces. He pressed soft lips against the cut marring Steve's cheek for a fleeting moment. Steve looked at Bucky (Bucky was always worth looking at, but he was transcendent in this Lady Liberty pose, radiant in these shadows) and wished for that blood-painted mouth to meet his own.
As always, I'd love to hear what you think.
This same entry also appears on Dreamwidth, at http://innie-darling.dreamwidth.org/455061.html.