Thought this was going to be a oneshot. Apparently it's a twoshot.
Evading the police was easy. With a full stomach and the 1940s cash he'd lifted from the punks earlier, Bucky wasn't worried about his survival in the short term.
Long term was a little more complicated. In the first place, he still didn't know for sure how he'd been sent back in time, and therefore wasn't sure how to get back. The opponent he, Steve, and Sam had been facing was an unknown, and while Bucky was sure he wasn't experienced in combat, his ability was proving more troublesome with each day Bucky spent in the past.
Bucky was trying not to think about the implications of this all being in his head. He'd hallucinated before; dreamed before. There were signs—if he looked, and he was scared to look.
(Don't go there, Barnes. Don't. You can't go there.)
He took a deep breath and focused. Right now, he needed lodgings. He had no idea where Steve or Sam was, but assuming that they had been caught in that weird temporal attack, they were somewhere within the same year.
Bucky adjusted the glove over his metal hand and glanced around. It was fortunate that he had met his double after already spending over a week in the past. The time had allowed him to grow out his facial hair and adjust his mannerisms to avoid any chance of instant recognition—efforts that had paid off. But he hadn't been expecting to meet himself, and part of Bucky was still reeling with the fact that the younger him hadn't recognized his own face.
(It had been a hellish seventy years, on top of the beard and long hair. But—had he really changed that much?)
Bucky shook his head. Time for that later.
After two more hours—one of which was spent finding a place to freshen up so the hotel wouldn't look his way more than necessary—Bucky had gotten a room at the only hotel in the small town. It was an older building, and Bucky could easily hear the pipes creaking while he lay back on the bed and stared at the ceiling.
It would do. At least the noise from the floors and the poorly oiled hinges on the doors would prevent anyone from sneaking up on him.
Bucky spent several minutes meditating as Sam and others had directed to forcibly calm his nerves, and then, when he was thinking clearly, he pulled out his last notebook and pen. The other notebook and pen—the spares he kept just in case—had gone to his double. Bucky wasn't sure why he had done that, only that it had felt right. Besides, his other self would probably gift it to Steve, which made the entire venture a good cause.
(Unless this wasn't real. Unless he was imagining everything. Unless all of this was another sick experiment designed to break him again and he couldn't do it not this time—)
Bucky chomped down on his tongue, using the pain to snap himself out of the downward spiral.
"Reality is a choice," Sam had said. "It's up to you to determine what's real."
This had to be real. Bucky would make it real and silence the voices in his head that said it wasn't.
The other Bucky's words would not stop bouncing around in Bucky's skull. His mannerisms, too, the slight tilt to his lips and the way he put his entire body into a conversation without any apparent effort. How damned expressive he was. Merely talking to him had been an exercise in self-control, and Bucky must have had training with interrogations even before he went to war because he'd never meant to share any information about the future but he had.
Willingly. As though he wanted the past Bucky to understand—
Understand what? That he changed? That in the future he would do things that would wake him up screaming? That everything—everything—went to hell after Azzano?
(That Steve would be there, that other people would help when they had no real reason to.)
He couldn't warn himself about any of those things. The deeds of the Winter Soldier would have to remain ghost stories told years form now. Case and point, he had no memory of the conversation occurring in the first place outside of his most recent experiences, which meant that past Bucky had been preoccupied with other things. Talking about the future would have stayed in Bucky's head.
Especially if he found out he was going to become a brainwashed cyborg super assassin.
For some reason, stating the facts so bluntly tended to lighten Bucky's mood.
(Steve wouldn't be happy to know that, but Steve could be rather dense.)
Trying to change the future wasn't an option. Finding his way back to the future was impossible without any information on exactly how he'd been sent back in the first place, and without any leads on Sam and Steve's locations Bucky had nowhere to look.
He had no mission, no objective. Nothing.
(Calm down, Barnes. Breathe.)
He was in 1941, several months before he enlisted in the army. That meant over seventy years until he met the modern Steve as the Winter Soldier.
Bucky couldn't spend seventy years waiting for that. He couldn't. Especially while knowing that his past self was being conditioned into the weapon he never wanted to become.
Because that was the crux of everything, wasn't it? The vibrant, outspoken man Bucky had talked to in that diner, who stood up to those punks, who made a face at sugary sundaes and said, "Wait until his back is turned" as though he fully intended to attack the gunman the moment the opportunity presented itself—that man would not want to become the Winter Soldier.
Bucky's metal arm whirred as he flexed his metal fingers. With his clothes covering it, the arm appeared normal to anyone else. But Bucky knew; this limb was a permanent reminder of what had been done to him.
"It's also a sign of what you are overcoming," Sam had said on one of Bucky's particularly bad days. At the time, the words had been pointless drivel, but now…
Seventy years was too long. Bucky had to do something; he couldn't sit around aimlessly.
He needed a mission. An objective.
Where would Steve go? Without any way to communicate (their comm. units were silent), where would he travel? Searching without knowing was a great way to get lost, but—
Brooklyn. Steve would go to Brooklyn, because Bucky knew Brooklyn. It was their home and the only place either of them knew for sure.
Bucky just had to meet him there.
(But he had to avoid his past self and past Steve. There was no telling what another meeting would do to the future.)
That was a plan. He could take a series of concrete steps to achieve it. He would go to Brooklyn, and then…
He would go to Brooklyn.
Once he had showered and changed, packing took no time at all. Bucky only had the clothes on his back and the one other set he'd picked up while travelling, alongside the weapons and armor he'd been carrying at the time of the attack. He wasn't able to carry more than the knives and three of the guns on his person, however, because their designs were too obviously modern and the clothes he wore didn't permit as much flexibility and cover as Bucky would have liked.
Fitting the rest of his meager supplies into a duffel, Bucky slipped the cash he'd pick pocketed into his jacket and left.
Knowing that his past self was likely long gone, Bucky went to the buses. He had enough cash to pay the bus fares all the way to New York City, and they were more anonymous than trains. No one even looked twice at his bag.
The rides passed slowly. Bucky had calculated that, with traffic and stops where he would have to transfer buses, it would take him about eight hours to reach the city. The first ride took two, and there was only one other person on the bus. Bucky ignored them and they did the same.
His training as the Asset helped him to remain still and calm even when several more people boarded the next vehicle. One sat irritatingly close and began to strike up a conversation, which Bucky participated in reluctantly. To remain silent would only draw attention his way, something he wanted to avoid at all costs.
"So, sonny, where'd you come from?"
The man trying to speak with him was old, old enough that wrinkles created trenches in his face and gravity dragged at his skin. But his eyes were bright and he looked at Bucky with no sign of anything malevolent.
"New York," Bucky answered. More training came up in his head, older lessons of infiltration that he'd rarely used. "And you, sir?"
"Ah, no formality here. Call me Ben. I'm from Newburgh, meself. Got some family in the Big Apple."
"That sounds nice." He had to offer up a little more information about himself. The conversation demanded that much. "I'm visiting a friend."
"Are ya?" Ben gave Bucky a long, considering look. Bucky abruptly realized that he was waiting for a name—Bucky's name.
"Sorry," Bucky said, "I'm James. Nice to meet you."
They shook hands. "Nice to meet ya, too, James. So, this friend o' yers—how's he like the city?"
Bucky had been speaking with a foreign accent without even realizing it, a subconscious effort to hide his identity. He was—British, apparently. Better than German or Russian, considering the time period. Ben must have thought Bucky was a recent traveler.
"He's a little surprised," Bucky said. "We both thought it would be raining more."
"You Europeans," Ben said with a snort. "Nah, we got sunshine. Sometimes, anyhow. Weather's crap in the winter."
Bucky forced his lips into a smile. "Weather's crap all the time in London."
"Ya don't need to brag about something like that, sonny. You know—"
Bucky heard the driver spit a curse and then the entire bus lurched when he slammed on the brakes. While he grabbed the nearest railing with one hand to anchor himself, Bucky snagged Ben so he didn't fall onto the floor. Three people rolled past, having lost their footing, and came to painful stops against the metal legs of the seats.
The bus finally jolted to a stop. Ignoring the whispers and mutterings of the passengers, Bucky scanned his surroundings. They were passing through a small stretch of forest, with the trees coming within ten feet of the road on both sides. There were no cars behind them or on either side that Bucky could see.
But he could hear someone barking orders from outside.
"Everyone put your valuables in the aisle!"
They were being hijacked, Bucky realized with vague displeasure. There were at least four armed men in the group; Bucky automatically dubbed them objectives one through four and left five through seven up in the air. Without eyes on the targets, Bucky couldn't verify how many there were.
Frightened murmurs travelled up and down the bus. Bucky was in the middle, by one exit but not close enough to get out without being seen by the man currently standing in the front of the bus with his gun to the driver's head.
"Now!" Objective One shouted, jabbing his gun into the driver's skull hard enough to make the driver grunt in pain.
Slowly, people began to follow the orders. Bucky didn't, partly because he had no valuables and partly because he already had a plan on how to deal with these people. His inaction, of course, drew the attention of Objective Two, who had boarded after his original cohort.
"Hey, you!" Bucky stared at him. "Yeah, you! Valuables in the aisle. Now!"
"No," Bucky said.
Saying, "I don't have any" would have aroused their suspicion. A blatant refusal triggered their anger instead.
"Oh, a rebel, huh?" Objective One asked, lifting his gun from the driver's head. "You got somethin' to prove?"
"That I've got nothing to give idiots like you," Bucky replied. He stood, hearing Objective Three enter from the door behind Bucky and raise his gun. "Come on, shoot me."
"Bravery has its limits," Ben muttered with a worried look. Bucky shot him a smile designed to be reassuring.
"Oh, we will," Objective Two promised. He nodded to Three, who roughly grabbed Bucky by the (left) shoulder. Bucky jerked away, seemingly resisting but actually stopping the man from noticing that the flesh underneath his fingers was far harder than it had any right to be.
"Try that again and I'll shoot you dead," Three growled. Bucky scowled at him (and at the redundancy of the statement) but allowed the man to drag him outside the bus. Really, Bucky could disarm the guy in less than a second.
They weren't professionals, that was for sure.
(Bucky's standards for professionals was him, Steve, Barton, and Romanoff. The bar was a little high.)
There were three more outside, totaling six. One of them had no weapons besides a dented baseball bat.
Objective Three shoved Bucky onto his knees in front of the bus. Bucky could now see the three vehicles the hijackers had driven into the middle of the road and made into a sloppy blockade, undoubtedly the reason the driver had stopped so suddenly.
The passengers were crowded by the windshield. Objectives One and Two were just barely visible behind them, guns raised and clearly forcing them to watch.
Assholes. But Bucky couldn't have them in there; they would be able to take hostages from the crowd and while a death or two wouldn't phase Bucky, part of him rebelled at the idea of unnecessary and preventable casualties. Therefore, he had to act.
"What, you're gonna leave two of your pals in there?" Bucky asked, craning his neck to look at Three with a mocking grin. "I thought this was supposed to be a party just for me, but I guess not."
He leaned out of the way of Three's punch. "Let's not get hasty. I'm just saying that, if you lot are too dumb to realize that the people in that bus aren't going anywhere, you might not deserve to be here I want a smart person doing my execution, sound fair? Think of it as my last wish. Anyone but him."
Bucky couldn't dodge the second punch, but it was weak and barely did more than split his lip. After licking away the blood, Bucky grinned. "That all? Come on, I feel like six on one would be better than four. I'm a dying man; can't I get at least that much as my last request?"
Three looked both baffled and fed up with Bucky's attitude. That was fine. One and Two, perhaps seeing Three's confusion, emerged from the bus.
"What's going on?" Two asked. "Just shoot him already."
As though he needed the reassurance that shooting Bucky was, in fact, the correct course of action, Three returned his gun to the back of Bucky's head.
The people on the bus were staring. Bucky could see Ben in the back, leaning on someone else for support. Bucky switched his gaze to the driver, trying to communicate with his eyes what the man should do.
By some stroke of luck, the driver actually understood. While the Objectives were focused on Bucky, the driver restarted the bus and began to turn around.
"Hey!" Objective One shouted, brandishing his gun. The other Objectives turned as well, making the mistake of removing their attention from Bucky.
Bucky was on his knees, but he quickly adjusted to sweep his legs out and send Three crashing to the ground. As Three fell, Bucky relieved him of his weapon and brought down One and Two with precision shots to their chests. Alerted by the gunfire and strangled gurgles of pain, Four through Six dove behind their cars for cover and began firing back at Bucky. Three tried to reclaim his gun but Bucky grabbed him as an impromptu shield instead.
Bullets thudded into Three and he let out two pained grunts before he went silent. Bucky discarded the body once he got behind the nearest car, using the door as cover. Checking the magazine of the rifle, Bucky saw that he only had two shots left.
Apparently these guys weren't big on bullets.
Bucky thought longingly of the duffel he'd left in the bus.
(Next time, he was hanging onto the bag of weapons. He would invest in straps. Or carry a backpack.)
The Objectives had stopped firing. Moving as silently as he was able, Bucky lifted up his head to look through the windows. The car was at the wrong angle, but the mirror on the opposite side showed a dark silhouette trying to creep up behind Bucky. Aligning the shot using the mirror, Bucky stood tall, found the Objective, and fired.
Objective Five went down without a sound, a hole in his forehead. Bucky ducked down again as two bullets pierced the space where his head had been.
Four and Six were smart enough not to speak and give away their positions.
The bus had made it around a bend in the road, making it impossible to see. Only Bucky and the remaining Objectives were still by the cars. There was no one else in sight.
Bucky removed the two bullets from the rifle and pocketed them. These idiots had a lesson to learn that a gunshot wound just wouldn't communicate.
(He would have to kill them in the end. Was it cruel to let them think they might survive?)
He then took off his jacket and the glove on his left hand. He didn't want his clothes to get damaged. His metal arm shone in the sunlight, and Bucky flexed it just to make sure that it was still functioning at optimal levels. It was.
After listening for a moment to pinpoint the Objectives' locations—they were hardly trying to be quiet—Bucky stood and began walking.
The first shot missed him entirely. The second grazed his metal arm. The third Bucky blocked with his hand. He reached Objective Six before the fourth shot came.
"Wha—what the hell?" Six tried to back away. He shot wildly, the fourth and fifth bullets missing Bucky by several yards.
Objective Four appeared to just be staring at Bucky's arm in shock.
Bucky disarmed Six and threw him at Four with his left arm. Four let out a grunt of pain and pushed Six off of him. They tried to scramble away, but Bucky shot a bullet right at the pavement in front of Four's face and they both froze, stuck on their bellies.
After a second's pause, Six flipped onto his back, pleas already spilling out of his mouth. Bucky bent down and shoved bullet number one down his throat, holding his mouth shut as Six shuddered, his gag reflex bringing tears to his eyes as his body bucked under Bucky's grip.
Four tried to use the opportunity to run but Bucky pulled out a knife and jammed it through the bottom of Four's foot, pinning him to the old street. His screams pierced the air and sent a flock of nearby birds to the sky in a flurry of indignant caws.
Bucky finally let go of Six's jaw and the man immediately threw up, a mix of blood and other fluids splattering onto the pavement. The bullet came to an innocuous rest in the middle of the mess.
Leaving Six to his strangled sobs and shaking limbs, Bucky turned his attention to Four, who was crying in pain.
"Oh god, get it out! Oh god it hurts it hurts—let me go! Oh god. Oh my god."
"Getting shot hurts more," Bucky said, yanking the blade out with little ceremony. Four screamed, and Bucky flipped him onto his back and straddled him, using his body weight to immobilize him.
If Bucky put his full weight on Four's chest, he had no doubt the man's ribs would break. As satisfying as that would feel, he had a different plan.
"Please let me go I'm sorry please oh god pleaseletmego—"
Bucky backhanded Four to shut him up, feeling something crack. Blood dribbled from Four's nose but his begging didn't cease.
Four closed his mouth when Bucky held bullet number two above his eye. "One more word," Bucky told him, "and this goes into your brain. Understand?"
Four's Adam's apple bobbed and he managed a short nod.
Six was unusually silent. But Bucky heard him approaching, probably with the intent to tackle him off Four.
They were greatly underestimating him.
Instead of putting the bullet in Four's eye, Bucky pushed it deep into Four's shoulder with his metal hand while he pulled out another knife with his right.
As Four's screaming resumed, Bucky stood, turned, and buried the knife up to the hilt in Six's thigh. Six staggered back, shock momentarily dulling his pain response. Bucky took the opportunity to lift Four up and shove him at Six. The pair went down again, and when Bucky stood over them, they didn't try to get away. The futility of their earlier attempts actually seemed to be getting through their thick skulls. Six was too focused on the weapon embedded in his leg to run, anyway.
"W-w-what do you w-want?" Four stammered. Six was scowling but made no effort to speak. Bucky wondered if he could, given the bullet that had torn up his throat.
What do I want?
Nothing, really. Well—that wasn't true. He wanted to go back to his own time. Stay in his own room. See Steve again. Finish the book he was reading. Practice his cooking skills.
A lot. He wanted a lot.
But these two dopes didn't need to know any of that. Bucky picked up one of the abandoned rifles from a fallen Objective's dead hands. It was loaded, and two quick shots put Four and Six out of their misery.
(No witnesses. Side objective complete, main objective complete. No casualties.)
By the time Bucky had recovered his jacket and glove and made his way back to the bus, the passengers had begun slowly spilling out, most likely wondering just how close they could get to Bucky's execution site without being spotted. They were surprised to see Bucky alive.
Of course Bucky was alive. The Asset—
"You're incredible, James," Ben said, but his worried gaze contrasted with his amazed tone. "Not a scratch on ya! What a lad."
"What happened to those men?" Someone asked.
I killed them.
"They started fighting with each other," Bucky said. "They got distracted and I—when they were going to shoot me, I—" he made a helpless gesture, every bit of his posture designed to make him seem like the lucky survivor. "I don't know if any of them are still alive."
"We can drive to the next town and I'll get the police," the driver said. "They'll handle this. In the meantime, folks, let's all get back on. I know a side road that'll get us there. And thank you for distracting them—James, was it?"
"It was a dumb thing to do," a woman muttered. James glanced her way. She was smiling, which confused him. "Dumb and incredibly brave. Thank you."
A wave of thanks passed through the assembled passengers. Bucky handled it as best he could, but he felt a little overwhelmed.
Ben steered him towards the bus, a fact that Bucky only realized when he was sitting down. His brain had done that annoying thing—losing pieces of time.
Sam called that a symptom of dissociation and said that it would get better.
It was an annoying symptom.
"Ya hear that?" Ben asked with a grin.
"Hear what?" Bucky didn't hear anything beyond what was expected.
"You're a hero, kiddo!"
"Ah, don't gimme that look! Ya did a good thing!" Ben was smiling. Why was he smiling. "Ya just saved a lotta people."
Bucky swallowed. "Yeah. I did."
I saved these people.
The passengers were filing back onto the bus, taking the positions they'd had when the hijackers boarded.
(Did the Asset ever save anyone?)
Ben kept looking Bucky's way. His smile had disappeared, and Bucky could see concern in his eyes. Bucky wondered if Ben was a HYDRA agent—and then remembered that HYDRA was still in its nascent stages. So why was he taking such an interest in Bucky?
Did he know the past Bucky?
The bus lurched into motion and Ben cleared his throat.
"Listen, son," he said. "I've seen and done some things, lost some things, too." Ben lifted his right hand, and Bucky saw that he only had three fingers on it. One of the fingers looked to be missing a knuckle. Bucky had noticed that injury before but hadn't been sure how many fingers were missing.
Ben was old. Bucky put him at around fifty or sixty years of age, which meant that it was highly likely he participated in the last large conflict—World War I.
"You're a veteran," Bucky said. Ben nodded.
"What I'm trying ta say is that it gets better. Takes a while, sometimes, but the flashbacks and the voices can't stay forever."
Bucky knew from casual research that PTSD hadn't really been identified in the forties. But it made sense that Ben and some other veterans would have the idea that what was going on in their heads wasn't normal. But why was Ben talking to him about this?
"Yer probably wondering why I'm saying this to ya—and don't gimme that look, sonny, because that's exactly the reason. I dunno what ya did ta those men and I don't want ta know. I just don't wanna see another man go because he outgrew his old place in the world."
Bucky nodded, unsure as to whether words were appropriate in this situation.
Was he supposed to say his thanks?
He eventually did, when he was getting off to switch buses and Ben wasn't, and the man just smiled at him and Bucky realized that the slight bulge in his jacket wasn't from old bones but a .38.
Bucky knew he was never going to see Ben again. He got on the next bus and pretended as though the cramped space wasn't creating enough static in his mind to drown out most of his thoughts.
The static persisted even a day later, when he was in an old hotel room in New York with water than only ran a third of the time. Every groan of the pipes and creak of the floor had Bucky on edge and he couldn't pin down the reason he felt so agitated; the other guests were on different floors and Bucky would hear anyone coming, and no one knew about him in this time so he didn't have a target on his back but his mind wouldn't calm down and thoughts kept pouring in like pounding rain—
He sat on the rickety bed and meditated. After ten minutes of mental exercises and breathing techniques, Bucky got his heart rate and respiration down to acceptable levels.
When he opened his eyes, he realized his right arm was missing.
(His left arm left a trail of blood, but there was no crimson-stained snow in the hotel room.)
No—he could still feel it. But from the middle of his bicep down, the limb was invisible. Bucky reached out with his left to feel where his forearm was, but his metal hand passed through empty air.
Not invisible. Gone. But he wasn't bleeding.
(Cold, so cold. Numbness that won't go away, that pulls him under. He knows it well. Knew it well.)
The static was back, louder than before.
It wasn't mental static. It wasn't the uncontrollable panic brought on from the memories and triggers that Bucky was growing so familiar with.
This was something else.
His left leg was gone too. The room around him was swimming in and out of focus, and Bucky felt nausea twisting his stomach.
He blinked and his vision stayed dark. He couldn't see.
He was cold. He couldn't feel his body but he was cold, the kind that seeped into his bones and stiffened his joints and he knew it so intimately from the seconds between freezing and unconsciousness in that cryo tank.
Panic gripped Bucky's mind and he thrashed, a continuous mantra of nonononono echoing in his mind—
Not again never again I don't want this Steve where are you I can't do this it's cold—
Roaring drowned out the static and everything went abruptly quiet.
There was something soft brushing against the exposed skin on his face and right arm. The stale air of the hotel room had switched to the smell of dirt and Bucky felt a light breeze tousling his hair.
He forced his eyes open, squinting when bright sunlight sent stabbing pains through his brain. Once his pupils had adjusted, Bucky slowly sat up, keeping his senses alert for any sign of an enemy. There was none, so Bucky got to his feet, gritting his teeth when he nearly stumbled.
His duffel was a few feet away. Bucky could still feel the weapons tucked away on his person, but he grabbed extra ammunition from the bag just to be safe.
A road cut across the field several yards away, an old pickup truck resting on the shoulder. The doors on the car were open, and Bucky saw no sign of passengers.
Because he'd been one of the passengers. That was Steve's truck—their road trip truck.
Bucky continued looking around while wracking his brain for memories of just what the hell had happened before he'd woken up in the past.
They'd been moving—Bucky's turn to ride in the bed of the truck, and Sam was driving with Steve riding shotgun. Bucky had spent that time wondering whether Sam was intentionally going over every single pothole he could find (and on such an out-of-the-way road, there were many). Right as he was deciding that yes, Sam was, Steve had noticed something in the field and they'd stopped.
(This is not your fault Steve but just because you've got that shield doesn't mean you can charge into whatever situation catches your eye.)
Bucky approached the lone farmhouse. That was what Steve had noticed—more accurately, he had noticed the body draped out the window leading to the hayloft, visible from the street but only obvious to people with superhuman vision.
The body's clothes waved gently in the wind and Bucky turned his attention to the open doors. He had a pistol in hand, and kept it ready for anything.
They had come to the barn, with Steve at point and Bucky close behind. Sam had been hanging back in case of an emergency, but none of them had been expecting the teenager to come walking out with a man holding a pistol to his head.
A clang drew Bucky's attention to the right, but the noise was just a rusted piece of equipment settling.
A standoff had ensued, with no one really doing anything until the man had turned his gun on Sam. Then chaos, and Bucky had reached for the kid, only for his arm to disappear, and then he was being pushed back by something he couldn't see—
What then? Just—darkness, and cold, and then he'd woken up an alley in a town he didn't recognize and a year he did.
Was it the kid? He hadn't looked afraid at all, even with a gun to his head. So there was something more to him.
Bucky had heard about mutants before. Was that kid one?
His grip on the gun tightened. Had HYDRA heard about their trip and sent those two as an ambush team? It wasn't the worst thing they were capable of. Bucky himself had participated in assassinations and slaughters that made that look tame.
He would sweep the truck for trackers after he confirmed that the area was safe.
Bucky could smell blood. He honed in on the source and softened his footsteps, creeping towards the back of the barn. Breathing—someone was there.
Rounding the defunct tractor, Bucky trained his gun on the boy collapsed behind it. Next to the boy, the man lay with a hole in his shoulder. The ashen color of his skin indicated severe blood loss at likely fatal levels.
The boy was reaching for the man, his hand just barely reaching the man's chest. His skin was also pale, but Bucky saw no sign of an injury. He also saw no sign of a weapon, but he kept his guard up. The boy was a weapon if Bucky's mutant guess was right, so a lack of a firearm wasn't reassuring in the slightest.
Bucky circled around the boy, who was showing no signs that he'd noticed Bucky at all. Only when Bucky kicked the man's pistol away did the boy glance up.
His face was lined with sweat, and every breath he took seemed to be harder for him than the last. Bucky doubted he could stand.
Having identified no real threat, Bucky holstered his gun and bent down next to the man. He had no pulse, and from his body temperature Bucky guessed he had been dead for several minutes at least.
"I couldn't do it," the boy gasped, his eyes landing on Bucky. "You're back. I couldn't do it."
"Couldn't do what?" Bucky asked, his eyes narrowing. The boy glanced around instead of replying.
"They're gonna be back soon too, aren't they? I couldn't—I'm sorry!" He clutched the dead man tighter. "I failed! I'm sorry!"
Something cold settled around Bucky's heart. "Are you HYDRA?"
The boy scowled, but that was all the answer Bucky needed.
"Did you come here to take me back?"
The boy didn't respond. Bucky reached for his pistol, old instincts telling him that pain was the best way to motivate this type of—
I don't do that anymore.
Bucky took a deep breath and looked into the kid's eyes. "What's your name?"
To his surprise, the boy responded. "Benjamin."
"Of course it is."
"What did you mean when you said you couldn't do it?" Bucky asked. Benjamin didn't respond. "Look, kid, you've done something to two people very important to me, and I am hovering right on the edge of making some very bad decisions. So speak, or things will get ugly." Bucky leaned closer, looking Benjamin right in the eye. "They told you what I used to be, didn't they?"
A minute later, Benjamin was stammering answers. "I can—send people through time. To anywhere in the past, only. I—usually I send people to die. Like…Pompeii. World War I battles. Earthquakes. The beginning of the Earth."
The last one had Bucky mentally raising his brows as some piece of him stirred for the first time in years. Curiosity—he was curious.
"How far back can you send someone?"
Benjamin tried to shrug, couldn't, and instead just shook his head. "Don't know. Never tried more than the Earth. No point."
"So where are Steve and Sam?"
"Same time you were. Can't send people to…different times at the same time. Doesn't work."
"And why am I back?"
"Couldn't do it," Benjamin muttered, his eyes skittering towards the dead man. His handler, Bucky supposed. The thought made him sick. "Couldn't keep all three of you—I got distracted when he shot Mr. Black."
They hadn't even tried to be discreet with the false name. Bucky reassessed the kid's age and put him at less than sixteen.
"I got distracted and I—I couldn't—I sent you to the wrong time. Meant for the volcano, but…" He trailed off, but Bucky could see his frustration easily enough.
"How long have you been with HYDRA?"
Benjamin shut down immediately. Bucky dismissed the question. It wasn't necessary to know, just more of that morbid curiosity.
"So why am I here, and not still in the past?"
"Couldn't do it." Bucky waited. "Putting people in the past—keeping them there—takes energy. I couldn't do it. Usually they…they die before it gets bad. But you—" Benjamin tried to glare, but the look was hardly intimidating—"you survived."
"I'm not going to die in the forties," Bucky said. "Not physically, anyway."
It was exactly the kind of joke that would have Steve giving him the puppy-dog eyes and Sam shaking his head with an amused smile. Benjamin just stared.
"How long until you give out and my friends come back?" Bucky asked.
Bucky considered the circumstances for a few seconds before finding a comfortable seat against the wall that had a good view of the entire barn. He would wait this out.
And wait it out he did. Eighteen minutes and forty-two seconds later, Benjamin let out a rattling breath, his outstretched hand spasmed for a few seconds, and then his body went limp.
Bucky got up and examined his body.
"Why would he use his ability if it would kill him?" Bucky muttered, turning Benjamin over and doing a cursory examination of the body just in case he had missed anything.
He saw the blood dribbling from the kid's lips, saw the blue tinge to his fingertips and the redness of his open eyes.
Bucky didn't even have to look to know that he would find a broken tooth capsule in Benjamin's mouth.
Poison was a terrible way to go.
Bucky briefly wondered whether Benjamin had been spending their entire conversation and subsequent quarter hour debating whether to break the capsule or not. The boy certainly didn't seem like the type to kill himself for HYDRA, but Bucky didn't know how deep his conditioning ran.
Sad. But better than what Benjamin's fate could have been.
Setting the body down, Bucky unholstered his pistol just to be safe and went to check outside again. If Benjamin's death meant that Steve and Sam were stuck in the past, Bucky was going to have a hell of a time figuring out what to do about that. He didn't want to go to Stark; they were on rocky ground, and further conversation would definitely require a buffer of Sam's caliber or greater.
Bucky didn't know anyone else like that save Bruce, but Bruce didn't deserve to be put in a stressful situation like that. Even the Winter Soldier would have difficulty facing the Hulk.
The field had changed. Not much, but there were two new lumps interrupting the landscape where before there had only been overgrown grass and weeds.
Bucky recognized the shield immediately. He smiled and tucked the gun out of sight before moving to help his friends.
Later that night, in the privacy of his shared hotel room with Steve, Bucky wrote the events of his travels in the past in his journal. He had to borrow a pen from Steve, but that was fine.
This was fine.
He wasn't fine, of course, but he was getting there. The thwarted assassination attempt and subsequent destruction of the tracker on the truck had been two more steps in the right direction, and Bucky knew that.
His younger self—would he be proud? Bucky didn't know. Too much had happened in too little (too much?) time for him to make that judgment.
But he wanted to believe—needed to believe—that he was moving forward.
Across the room, Steve rolled onto his back and began snoring. Bucky watched him for a minute, taking in the slope of his body and comparing it to the watery memories he had of Steve from Before.
Physically, they were different. Bucky and Steve both. But mentally? Mentally, Steve was the same. Still headstrong, still determined, still that spunky little punk from Brooklyn beneath all that muscle. And Bucky couldn't tell whether those traits were good or bad, not really, because his problems were mental in the worst possible ways. His blacks and whites had shifted to grays.
But Bucky had made his choice: he was going wherever Steve went.
'Till the end of the line.
I should really be working on my other stories.
Until we meet again,