ratherastory: (Glorious)
ratherastory ([personal profile] ratherastory) wrote2014-09-03 11:36 am

In Hearts We Leave Behind 1/2

Title: In Hearts We Leave Behind
Summary: Bucky is looking for answers.
Written for the [livejournal.com profile] avengers_rbb challenge. I was lucky enough to snag [livejournal.com profile] petite_madame's gorgeous Steve/Bucky prompt, post-CA:TWS. You can see her art here, though I must advise you that the story starts before the comic does, so beware minor spoilers!
Characters/Pairings: Bucky Barnes /Steve Rogers, Peggy Carter
Wordcount: 7,623
Rating: R
Spoilers: Everything up to and including CA:TWS
Warnings: None that I can think of
Neurotic Author's Note #1: I need to gush all over [livejournal.com profile] petite_madame here, not only for producing fan-fucking-tastic, breathtakingly beautiful art, as usual, but also for putting up with me and my little RL-induced disappearing act this summer. It was an incredible privilege to be able to work with her. She is both a wonderful artists and a very patient collaborator, and deserves all the love.
Neurotic Author's Note #2: Have I mentioned how lucky I was to get this piece? I practically leapt off the page and screamed at me WRITE ME! WRITE ME NOW! I must beg our readership's indulgence, however, as I took liberties with the original dialogue in the dialogue bubbles, thus making poor [livejournal.com profile] petite_madame's life a lot harder. I tried to stick with the original script as much as possible, but there were times when, for my own stylistic purposes, I had to re-imagine what was being said. Any discrepancies you spot between the story and the comic are all my fault.
Neurotic Author's Note #3: I also owe undying thanks to my long-suffering and intrepid beta, [livejournal.com profile] rainylemons, who not only beat all my convoluted syntax into submission, but also gave me a few crucial pointers on how to hit the right emotional notes in the story when I was floundering about and missing my target by a mile. All hail to betas! Remaining mistakes are, of course, mine.



When he thinks of himself at all, it's as the Asset.

Whoever he was before, that man is long gone. He suspects that, even then, he wasn't much prone to self-reflection. He spends most of his time these days avoiding mirrors, avoiding even slightly reflective surfaces--shop windows, television screens, anything that might show him an image for which he doesn't think he'll ever be ready.

The first real glimpse he catches of himself is at the Smithsonian. He pays for his ticket with the money he knew was left at a dead-drop for another hit, in what feels like another lifetime. With Hydra in tatters, its members either gone into hiding or struggling to rebuild, the cash had been forgotten or abandoned. Either way, it had still been there, waiting for him. He shoves his hands in the pockets of his jacket, hunches his shoulders, hides under his new cap, and is grateful that in all those years when they kept him frozen, no one ever bothered to cut his hair.

Sergeant James Buchanan "Bucky" Barnes is the name on the plaque next to Steve Rogers, aka Captain America, right under a photograph of the man from the bridge. He stares at the photograph, at the fading sepia tones, and tries to conjure up a memory, a spark, anything that would tell him this image is real, that what he's seeing truly happened. Neither face seems familiar, his own least of all. He can see his silhouette reflected in the glass, the outline superimposed on the smiling Sergeant Barnes.

That's not me.

Is it?

There's patriotic music playing in the background, at once alien and familiar. Behind him, people move about the exhibit, speaking in hushed tones more suited to a cemetery than a museum. In a way they might be right. The only loud voices in here belong to children, heedless of the supposed solemnity of what they're seeing. One yells out an almost unintelligible apology as they all jostle him when they run past, giggling and shouting as they race toward the interactive part of the exhibit, where they can all see how they measure up to the legendary Captain America.

There's a film playing on loop in a dark room. He sits at the back of the theatre to watch, unmoving, eyes riveted to the screen. He thinks he recognizes the dark-haired woman speaking about him as though they were friends, all that time ago. She mostly speaks about Captain America, but sometimes she talks about Sergeant Barnes, too.

"They were inseparable," she laughs, lips pulling back in a rueful smile. Her teeth are very white. "I think the hardest thing for Ste—Captain Rogers, was the long separation from his best friend. It was that devotion that made him go on that rescue mission that very first time, apart from his own particular brand of heroism. I don't know that he would have felt quite so motivated if it hadn't been for Bucky."

Peggy. Peggy throwing her head back and laughing before she turned to whisper something in Steve's ear. Bucky would have been jealous, except he knew Steve would be telling him everything before the day's end. Steve never had any secrets from him, not since they were little kids.

He shakes his head against the unwelcome intrusion. The image is vivid, though. He can see the too-bright red of her lipstick, the perfect curl of her hair. At the time he'd told himself he was jealous of Steve, because up until then Bucky had been the catch, the guy who, of the two of them, would have been able to wrap a dame like that around his little finger. It was easier, then, to attribute that sharp tug in his chest to lust for the girl than to anything else.

"I suppose that's why he took it so hard when Bucky died," Peggy-on-the-screen is saying now. He missed some of what she was saying, but it doesn't look like it was important. People talk too much anyway. "Of course, he blamed himself. It was hubris, taking on the responsibility for everything and everyone, but I suppose that's part of who he was as well. There's no point romanticising Steve now that he's dead," Peggy says, pragmatic as ever. "He was a good man, but he was a man first and foremost. That's precisely the reason he was chosen for the project in the first place. There wasn't much time that separated their deaths, but I did get to see Steve during that time, and it was like… it was like part of him had died already, fallen away into oblivion with his best friend."

His head jerks up, and a little boy sitting a few seats away with his family startles a little, eyes growing wide in his head. He fixes the boy with the same stare he's used on his targets countless times—the one he knows will make them go to ground like animals caught in a searchlight—and puts a finger to his lips. The boy's eyes go wide enough to swallow his whole face, but he gives the slightest nod and turns back to watch the screen, the light from the projected images flickering over his terrified features.

That's all he is, now. The Asset. A thing that's meant to kill, that terrifies children. He rises from his seat, stalks through the darkened theatre aisles, and ducks back out into the more brightly lit museum, leaving the smell of stale air and sweat behind him.

~*~

"Sergeant Barnes…"

"The procedure has already begun!"

He can see the drill slicing through flesh, biting into bone. He feels no pain at all, and somehow that makes it so much worse. He tries to scream, but the mouth guard makes it all but impossible. He barely recognizes the sounds that come from him, more reminiscent of a wounded animal than a human being. In a moment, he won't be human at all anymore.

"Wipe him, and start over."

He falls.

He wakes in a cold sweat, shivering against the cold concrete where he curled up once the sun went down. It's not that he couldn't afford a place to stay, more that he didn't see the point. He's never needed a place to sleep before—awake, he was always on a mission. Asleep, he was in stasis. There was never a need for rest, it was always provided whether he wanted it or not.

At least he knows where to find one person who can give him answers. The rest are all dead. Arnin Zola, Alexander Pierce… a legacy of death and destruction, destroyed in turn. The man on the bridge is out of his reach, at least for now, but there's at least one other who knows what happened, who might be able to give him answers.

He gets to his feet, flexes the fingers of his left hand. Something creaks and scrapes in his arm, a malfunction of some kind that no one is left to fix anymore. He thinks he must have damaged it during the fall from the helicarrier, perhaps water infiltrated the delicate mechanism when he plunged into the Potomac after his target—after Steve. It's strange, thinking of his target as a person with a name, as a person he knew, but then everything is strange these days. What's one more thing to add to the list?

It's ridiculously easy to leap the fence and scale the wall to the third-story bedroom. The window isn't even latched, though it has been closed in deference to the room's occupant, probably to shield her from the chill in the night air.

Peggy is older than he expected. White-haired and liver-spotted, but she's sitting ramrod-straight in a padded chair just inside the window, eyes glittering in the darkness.

"Who the devil do you think you are, barging in at this time of night?"

He has to fight the sudden urge to stand at attention. The allure of obedience is strong enough that even a strange voice barking orders makes him want to fall in. He turns on her, but doesn't draw his weapon. What threat can a ninety-five year old woman be?

"You're Peggy Carter."

"Agent Carter," she corrects him, though she doesn't move to get up, arthritic hands resting uneasily on the arms of her chair. "Who are you?"

He falters. "I… That's not why I came."

It's exactly why he came.

Peggy's expression changes, then. Her brow furrows, and her eyes cloud over a little. "I—I'm sorry, but do I know you?" She raises a hand to her temple, and he thinks the way it trembles isn't entirely due to the palsy of old age.

He steps forward, leans over her in a way calculated to intimidate her.

"I want you to tell me about Captain America. About Steve Rogers."

Her lip quivers, just for a moment. There's a spark of recognition in her eyes, mingled with confusion. "James? But I thought—"

"You don't get to speak unless you're answering my questions!" he snaps. "Captain Rogers! I want to know everything you know. Now."

She laughs at him. He rocks back a step, and has to refrain from reaching out to brace himself against the night table by the custom hospital bed. There are photographs lined up there, of Peggy and her family, of a man who is painfully familiar and yet unknown. There are fading photographs of children and newer photographs of what must be her grandchildren. Hidden behind those there's another photograph, sepia-toned and creased where it's been folded and unfolded multiple times. Peggy is standing between a smiling Steve and another man, barely more than a boy, whose head is thrown back in a delighted laugh. We were in Paris. They'd been given furlough for a few days, and Steve had insisted they go out to dinner with Peggy at least once.

"Come on, Buck, it's just dinner tonight. You can't always keep me to yourself. She'll get her feelings hurt otherwise."

"Let her," he'd said darkly, and Steve had laughed at him until he relented.

"You never were any good at giving orders," Peggy says now. "Nor much good at taking them, as I recall. It's partly why you were such a good sniper. What have you done to your hair, Sergeant?"

His right hand automatically moves up to feel his hairline, and he's a little shocked to feel how long and ragged his hair is. He hasn't had to give it any thought at all since… well, longer than he can remember. Peggy clucks her tongue at him.

"That's certainly not regulation. Did Hydra not allow you to shave?"

"I'm not playing your game. I want answers!"

He's off-balance, unsure what to do with this woman who is visibly not afraid of him. He understands the kind of bravery that comes from having nothing left to lose, but he's never had to deal with it head-on like this. He's never had to interrogate anyone before—target acquisition meant death, or at the very least handing them over to a skilled interrogator. Silence is his refuge, and now she's forcing him to speak. Peggy gives him a cursory once-over.

"I'm afraid you've come to the wrong place for the answers you need, poor lad. I do, however, have some of the answers you want. Over there," she gestures with a gnarled hand toward the night table. "In the last drawer. You'll find a false bottom. It's not much," she says, and he imagines he can hear real regret in her voice. "But it's a start."

It's a KGB file. Or, rather, it's a copy of the photographs of a KGB file. The quality is terrible, but it's all legible, at least.

"James…"

"That's not my name!"

"I have to call you something," she says, unperturbed, "and that's as good a name as any. You wanted to know about Steve, but I can't tell you about him. Not truly. Come here," she extends both hands, palm down, in a clear gesture of invitation.

The pull she has over him is uncanny. He thinks he understands, now, why Steve was drawn to her in the way he was. He certainly hadn't understood it then. He takes a step forward, and another, but balks before he quite makes it to her side. He settles for dropping to a crouch on the floor just shy of her feet, head bowed, stealing glances at her through his bangs so that she won't be able to read his expression.

"Look at you," she breathes. "Just look at you. He missed you, you know. And I don't mean that in that sad, insipid way that people mean when someone dies. He was different after you were gone. So different. Do you know, when he was lost… part of me was glad, because it meant I wouldn't have to watch him walk around with that terrible, bleeding wound in his soul anymore. Oh, he tried to hide it, soldiered on responsibly," she leans back in her chair, clasps her hands in her lap and closes her eyes. "But anyone who knew him could see that he wished he'd died on that train with you. And there were so few of us left who truly knew him."

He doesn't look up. There's a wet warmth on his cheeks that he can't bring himself to wipe away. He hopes she can't see him, that he hasn't given himself away.

"It was a very lonely life, up until the end."

That makes him snort.

"If you want to know about Steve, Bucky," Peggy says gently, "I suggest you ask him yourself."

~*~

He doesn't go looking for Steve. It feels easier, now, to think of him that way. Only a few days ago the man on the bridge was nothing more than a mission, a target with a red, white and blue shield. Now, though…

He takes some of his money and pays for a motel room for the night. Thirty dollars feels like a lot of money, but he thinks it might not be that much, not anymore. He switches on the lights, sits in a chair to read the thin file that contains all the human knowledge about who he is and why.

When he's done reading he strips off all of his clothes, and stares at himself in the mirrored doors of the empty motel room closet. He doesn't feel surprise when he doesn't recognize the stranger staring back at him, just a weary sort of resignation. Scars criss-cross and pockmark his entire body, legs and stomach and chest, all the way up to his neck. He reaches up with his right hand, probing gingerly at the mass of scar tissue where metal meets flesh. It doesn't hurt. In fact, there's barely any sensation there at all.

He scrubs his clothes in the bathtub, using the thin bar of motel soap as best he can. It's not perfect, but it'll do. Tomorrow, he decides, he'll buy new clothes. Less ostentatious ones. Something to cover his arm better. The jacket he has is fine enough, but he won't be able to wear it indefinitely, and even with long sleeves his hand will draw attention.

"That's certainly not regulation. Did Hydra not allow you to shave?"

He has scissors and a cheap plastic razor. It requires looking at himself more intently in the mirror than he'd like, a closer scrutiny than is truly socially acceptable, given his current level of acquaintance with himself. It's not polite to stare at strangers, no matter the circumstances.

It's easier to shave off the week's worth of stubble than it is to trim his own hair. He thinks he might have made a mess of it, even by modern standards, but he wets it and combs it obsessively until his scalp is sore, and by then it looks okay, maybe. Rituals, half-forgotten over seventy years. He does it all right-handed, carefully, painstakingly. It doesn't occur to him until he's almost done to try holding the scissors in his left hand, but he rejects the idea immediately. Rejected out of hand, he thinks, and grins at himself in the mirror until the look in his eyes tells him he'd better not try smiling again.

The bed is uncomfortable. Too big, too wide, too soft. Too open. Eventually he gives up lying on the mattress and settles on the floor, pulling the sheet with him. Even then he feels exposed, his left side vulnerable. He pushes the bed into the far corner of the room, slides under it and wedges himself against the wall before pulling the sheet over him, right hand resting on the butt of his pistol.

"Wipe him, and start over."

In his dreams, he falls.

When he's not falling, he's with Steve. Steve the way he was before, all skinny arms and protruding ribs, before everything changed. Back when Bucky was still Bucky, lying in bed with not even the sheet to protect his modesty, not that there was anyone around to care. Certainly Steve doesn't care, curled up around him like Bucky is the only thing keeping him from floating away. Bucky has an arm around Steve's shoulders, lets his fingers play over each one of the bones in his spine. It's been a hard winter, and Steve's been sick a lot… it wouldn't take much for him to get sick again.

"You worry too much," Steve says, before he starts coughing. It's a terrible, rattling cough that shakes his whole frame. Bucky feels something wet and warm spatter his arm, and when he raises it there are crimson flecks that make Steve's murmured apology swirl into nothingness.

He comes awake with a start that makes him crack his head against the underside of the bed. He exhales slowly, puffing out both cheeks with the effort, then turns over and closes his eyes again.

Steve is perched on the windowsill, Brooklyn at his back. He's wearing that stupid striped shirt that only serves to accentuate how skinny he is, and the evening sun is shining off his hair. He looks beautiful. Bucky isn't even paying all that much attention to what he's saying about Coney Island tomorrow.

"To tell you the truth, I had other things in mind," he says, sliding a hand up Steve's thigh. He's rewarded with a shudder and sudden silence as Steve sputters to a stop. "But we'd have to stay home for that…"

Steve is warm against him, his lips dry and a little chapped. His hips buck as Bucky pops open the buttons of his pants and slips his hand into his underwear. He's the one who guides them both back to the thin mattress they've been sharing for what feels like forever now. He crawls forward on hands and knees, laughing when Bucky yanks his pants down over his slim hips and pulls them clear before tossing them aside. He's still wearing that ugly striped shirt, but a moment later and Bucky has it over his head and flung to the side.

Steve is laughing breathlessly beneath him—Bucky loves the tiny wheezing sound he makes just for him, when they're like this—and the laugh soon turns to a moan as Bucky opens him up with two fingers. A moment later Steve is writhing beneath him, still smiling up at him, looking at him like he's the most damned precious thing in the whole world. He lunges up, kissing and mouthing and damned well nipping at Bucky's jaw until Bucky has no choice but to give in and kiss him back, feeling Steve's fingers tugging gently at the hair on the nape of his neck.

When he opens his eyes he's drenched in sweat and shaking, his dick still throbbing between his legs. He stares at the slats holding up the bed and digs the fingers of his left hand into the floor, feeling the tips gouge deeply into the cheap wood. Splinters catch in the grooves of the armour, making it screech and creak even more than before.

"Then finish it, because I'm with you until the end of the line."

With a hoarse yell he tosses the whole bed against the far wall, watching in satisfaction as it cracks into pieces and leaves a gaping crater in the plaster. He slumps into the corner, wraps both arms around his knees and lays his head down, heedless of the shouts and screams from neighbouring rooms.

The pull of oblivion is too strong after that, and he sleeps.

~*~

The motel manager's Adam's apple bobs spasmodically up and down as he refuses to renew the room for another night. Rivulets of sweat trickle from his forehead and temples down his face and neck and soak the filthy collar of his pink shirt.

"Look, I'm sorry... There were complaints. A lotta complaints. And, uh, there's damage to the room, too… Look, I can't do it."

He doesn't remember the manager coming to the door last night. He has a dim recollection of someone in his room screaming in fear when he stood to face them. He shrugs now and doesn't answer. The manager is mumbling something about a deposit, but he ignores it and sets his key on the desk before turning his back and leaving.

He walks.

It's more of an aimless wandering in circles than any purposeful walking. Before, he was never allowed to be on his own after a mission, and he doesn't like the aimless feeling his newfound freedom has given him. There's no goal, no one to return to for debriefing, nothing. What he needs is intel. He still has the KGB file. What he should do is re-read it, and maybe it'll make more sense than it did last night. Nothing he read last night makes sense, and he's not sure he'll have any more luck today, but it's worth a try. He settles with it on a bench, heedless of who might be looking over his shoulder.

"Your work has been a gift to mankind. You've shaped the century…"

He doesn't see any evidence of history being made. All he sees is a list of dead people. Names, personal information, pictures, rivers of spilled blood. The blood doesn't show up on paper, though. The edges of the photocopied papers are crisp and white, pure as the snow-covered mountains on the day he first fell. The day he began to fall, and never stopped. He criss-crosses the city three times before he makes up his mind to a course of action. He was given a mission, and although the parameters may have changed, there's still unfinished business to attend to.

After that, it's easy enough to pick up the trail. It's almost as if the man on the bridge—Steve—is making it easy for him. The Black Widow is all over the news, as is the downfall of both SHIELD and Hydra—though he's not sure of the latter. Cut off one head, two more grow back, after all. He watches the Black Widow on the television, cool and poised as she answers a barrage of questions, a smirk playing on her lips. He remembers her, though she was nothing but a tiny red headed urchin running errands for anyone who would give her bread and soup. Natalia. A survivor, if ever he'd seen one. He saw her once more after that, when she was older, standing between him and a target. After that, he hadn't given her another thought.

It takes him a few days of watching and waiting before he's sure of his next move. He follows first the Black Widow, then the black man whose wings he tore off. Eventually they lead him to the man he really wants to see. There's a quiet funeral on a sunny afternoon, held by a man in a suit who doesn't look like a priest. He perches a few hundred yards away, unseen and unheard, though the climb up to his vantage point makes his arm creak in protest. No matter how much oil he's applied to it, he can't quite rid himself of the stiffness in the joints. If anything, it seems to be increasing with each passing day. There are only five people in attendance at the funeral, including the dead man himself, who makes an appearance once the would-be service is over and then leaves again, unaccompanied, though the invitation to the others was clear.

He watches the man leave, and senses that this will be one of the last times he sees him. But he's not here for Fury. He's here for Steve, who's talking earnestly to the black man. The man claps Steve on the shoulder, and they leave together, while Natalia goes her own way, as she always has.

He clings to the shadows, follows at a remove. They never see him, though it seems others in the street sometimes look at him askance. His arm seizes up once as he's reaching for something, simply locks up and refuses to obey him, and panic bubbles up in his chest until he's able to work out the kinks in the elbow joint and move it again. By then it's almost too late: Steve and his friend have rounded a corner, and he has to sprint in order to catch sight of which door they enter before they disappear from view entirely. He skids to a halt, heart hammering against his ribcage, sweat pooling at the base of his spine, the ground unsteady beneath his feet. For a moment his vision swims, and he braces himself against the cool wall of the brownstone apartment with his good hand, breathing hard until the world begins to stand still again.

After that, he stays put. He finds an alley nearby, frightens a drunken old man into silence, and crouches in the shadows, waiting for an opening. It comes sooner than he anticipated, once twilight has rolled on into evening. The black man comes back to the door, waves once before taking his leave. Given that he and Steve have been making visible preparations to leave the city, this might well be his only chance.

He gets up from his hiding place by a garbage container, and this time he knows he's not imagining how off-balance he feels when one knee suddenly threatens to give way. He flails, trying to catch himself before he falls, and his left arm clangs against the metal wall of the container like a bell tolling. He winces, then hurries across the street under cover of darkness, silent in spite of the strange dizziness that keeps trying to overcome him, hoping that he hasn't attracted any unwelcome attention.

There are three ways into the building. The front entrance is locked, the fire escape too obvious, so he opts for scaling the wall and sliding up the window to a tiny kitchen that boasts a sink, a hot plate and a table barely big enough for two people. No one even bothered to latch the window. He scoffs to himself. Always so trusting. He slips inside, sight unseen—or at least he thinks so until he hears a gasp of surprise from the other side of the room.

"Oh my God, Bucky!"

Blood roars in his ears. He doesn't stop to think before he's brought his gun to bear on the target. "Stay where you are!"


Part 2

[identity profile] runomimichigau.livejournal.com 2014-09-03 06:36 pm (UTC)(link)
В тему! Сейчас темно рано. Нашла спрей для самообороны Sabre Red http://vk.cc/2W1I7w

[identity profile] petite-madame.livejournal.com 2014-09-03 09:13 pm (UTC)(link)
It was a pleasure to work with you ♥ You were so enthusiastic and full of ideas about this prompt!

What surprised me the most is that I conceived it as the beginning of a story and you chose to make it one of the final scenes, it was brilliant :D (Also, the end stays open to interpretation so you can imagine what's gonna come next)

I love all the details about Bucky's new way of wife, how his arm suffered because of the water when he fell from the hellicarrier, how he couldn't sleep, how he forgot to eat! And of course the way you included the character of Peggy was awesome (I love her!).

Thank you SO MUCH for devoting all this time to write the perfect story for my prompt. I couldn't hope for something better ♥

[identity profile] trinipedia.livejournal.com 2014-09-04 07:14 pm (UTC)(link)
Any chance to get both parts as an epub or pdf or AO3 file?

[identity profile] ratherastory.livejournal.com 2014-09-04 07:42 pm (UTC)(link)
Hello!

Thank you for your interest in my story. I am on AO3 under the same username: ratherastory.

Next time, try asking politely. A "please" goes a long way these days.

[identity profile] trinipedia.livejournal.com 2014-09-04 07:54 pm (UTC)(link)
sorry about that. I was writing from my cellphone and didn't have coverage. was trying to finish the message as fast as possible in order to reach you sooner and get the story to read it, because I was really eager to.
didn't mean to disrespect you.