Hey all! I've been mad busy at college and am frankly surprised that I got this done. Yay for random ideas and sugar-fueled follow-through. This story takes place at some point past The Winter Soldier. It diverts from canon almost immediately following The Winter Soldier because actual planning is hard.

You can also find this story on AO3!


He keeps getting back up. The soldier has put three bullets in his right leg and a fourth in his left arm, but still the man—the target—is struggling to his feet. Blood has soaked his pant leg, dyeing the white stripes down the side crimson. The same has happened to his blue shirt sleeve; blood has dripped from its rolled cuff onto the man's forearm and the soldier cannot take its eyes away from the drops as they course down to his fingertips.

The man is now on his feet. The soldier has neither lowered his weapon nor pulled the trigger a fifth time. It knows that it has never given a hint of the confusion in its mind, but the man stares into its eyes as though the soldier has thrown the weapon to the ground and turned its back.

"Bucky," he says, and in that word is a lifetime of bright lights and electrocutions and good morning, Soldat.

The soldier aims the weapon at the target's left leg. The soldier knows that the man has advanced healing, that his wounds will clot before he bleeds out. One or two more bullets, however, can overwhelm that factor. The soldier just has to pull the trigger.

The soldier came to this place knowing that it would meet the target in a secluded section of his run. There is no one else in this area of the park, no one even in hearing distance of the suppressed gunshots. Still, the soldier gets the impression of eyes not its own watching, waiting, judging.

Pleading.

Despite the urge to check its surroundings, the soldier can't tear its eyes away from the blood on the target's arm. The blood it has drawn with its weapon and its finger on that weapon's trigger. Direct cause-and-effect. Aim the weapon, flex the finger, kill the target.

Except the soldier has not yet aimed the weapon anywhere that will kill the target. Not the heart or the stomach or the throat or the brain. The soldier knows, in detail, how each of those wounds leads to death. It knows how long it will take, how much pain it will cause. Yet it hesitates.

Three gunshot wounds to the leg roughly equals the pain of being shot in the stomach. The soldier knows that from experience. The soldier can't figure out why he wants the target to understand, why it needs the target to understand the pain he is not feeling but is also feeling at the same time. As though by not killing the target but showing him the pain of being killed instead, the soldier will somehow carry out its mission.

The soldier's arms do not shake as it continues to hold the weapon up. The target has stilled on his feet, his face pale and drawn with pain and loss of blood. The target is not rushing forward or trying to talk the weapon out of the soldier's hands.

The soldier's arms do not shake, but its right index finger trembles. The soldier cannot force the command pull through. The finger will not respond correctly.

There is blood staining the path. It has soaked through the target's new athletic pants and battered tennis shoes to the gravel beneath. The target has put nearly all of his weight on his left leg. A bullet there will send him to the ground again.

The soldier aims for the meaty part of the man's left thigh, away from the femoral artery.

Five gunshot wounds spaced around the body roughly equal the pain of being shot in the chest. The soldier knows that like it knows the agony currently resting to the left of its center, a pulse of pain it has felt since shooting the target the first time. The pain is different than the pain the soldier had felt on the Helicarrier. More intense. More acute.

The soldier had given itself this mission when it had woken up the day after the Helicarrier crash in an attempt to clear its head and restore baseline functions. Much of what had happened on the Helicarrier directly before the crash is hazy in the soldier's mind, and it had thought that seeing the man again would clear the fog away.

Instead, the soldier has only found confusion and more pain.

The man takes a step forward and the soldier shoots on reflex.

For an instant, surprise fills the man's eyes and he lingers on his feet, gravity not yet taking hold—

And then his leg collapses beneath him and he falls with a grunt. The sound and noise is loud in the tense silence and the soldier cannot move, frozen under the assault of something on its mind. The eyes that have been watching it since the Helicarrier burn and the soldier's right arm is shaking. Its chest is a battleground torn up by emotions the soldier cannot process.

The soldier stares at the man collapsed in front of it. The man is on his stomach, still. But as the soldier watches, the man begins to get up again. It starts with his right arm; the man places his right hand by his head and lifts slightly. He shifts and pulls his left leg under him despite the new wound in that thigh.

"Bucky," the man grunts, except this time the name is not a plea. The man continues his efforts and his voice comes out strained but he does not stop talking. He never stops trying to get up. "You're hurt. You're confused." The man lifts his head. They lock eyes and the soldier cannot look away. "I can't begin to understand what you're going through." The man has pushed himself into a kneeling position. "What I do know is that I want to help. I want to help you, Bucky."

The soldier cannot aim the weapon reliably. its right arm will not stop shaking. The plates on the metal arm click and shift, unable to keep up with the barrage of confusing neural commands the soldier's brain can't stop spitting out.

The man's expression relaxes. He is clearly intending to hide his pain, which the soldier knows. He knows that expression. He knows it and he hates it.

Hate. He hates it. He. Hates it.

The soldier blinks his eyes when his vision begins to blur.

"Please, Buck," the man says, and now his voice is soft but the soldier still hates that face and that hatred is building like a fire in his veins, ever-growing and spreading like lava in each limb from the chest to the fingers to the toes it does not stop. "Let me help you."

The soldier cannot regulate his breathing. He cannot keep himself still. He cannot control the muscles of his face but the hatred inside of him demands something, it demands action, he can't refuse so he aims the weapon again and he pulls the trigger and the gunshot is no louder than the rest but it echoes, final, resolute, an ending to a story barely begun that he just.

Can't.

Forget.

Steve looks from where the bullet had embedded itself in the gravel an inch away from his left foot and then back up to Bucky's face. His mouth is open but he doesn't speak but the name still hovers in the air between them, unsaid but heard. The soldier—Bucky, Buck, Barnes, Sergeant, Sir, please—lets the weapon drop. He doesn't throw it down but he doesn't try to slow its fall and maybe his right arm is malfunctioning the same way as his left because he doesn't feel the grip slide out of his hand and he barely hears the gun hit the gravel. His eyes are on Steve's and the fire in his veins has burned out and left something small and cold and scared curled in his chest, a knot of tension and fear and realization sitting like a stone in his heart.

"Steve," Bucky says, and suddenly he's not so sure that he didn't shoot himself because his legs don't work right when he falls to his knees next to Steve and it's a small miracle that Steve doesn't knock him over when he collapses into Bucky, finally folding under the weight of his injuries like a house of cards with one too many removed, pulled away, shot.

"Steve," Bucky says again, a mantra, a demand, a plea to the man whose eyes are sliding shut even though his irises contain all the answers to the questions Bucky needs to ask and he grips Steve's shoulders, both of them flesh and blood, and begs him to stay awake, begs him to stay there, to wake up, to live because Bucky can't do this, he's sorry, he's so goddamned sorry Steve just please wake up and say that it's gonna be okay that things are fine that this is just another mistake and it'll all work out—

"Steve," Bucky whispers, because Steve is unconscious against his chest but his heart is beating and there is life passing over his parted lips and it's not forgiveness but it's a chance so Bucky picks him up, one arm under the knees, one arm across the shoulders and supporting the head. There is blood on him now, Steve's blood, Steve's blood that has stained Steve's clothes and Steve's skin and Steve's shoes and the path under Bucky's feet, and it's not poetic but it's more than deliberate and maybe there's a metaphor in there somewhere but Bucky doesn't stop to search because Steve is bleeding out in his arms and nothing in his life has ever been more important than the muscle beating eight times per minute in Steve's chest.

His base is only a two-minute run away when Bucky ignores all of the traffic laws and pedestrian not-said-but-done rules and the implied laws of staying under the radar because he has been off the radar for decades and now with Steve's life on the line Bucky has never wanted to be more in the way because at least if he's in the way he knows he's trying to get somewhere, he knows that his feet have purpose and the body in his arms is more than just another in a long line of victims.

In the base is nothing, almost nothing, just barely on the other side of nothing and that's all he needs. He sets Steve down and pulls out supplies and gets to work and even though his mind is quaking his hands are steady enough to get the job done finish the job complete the mission it's all about the task at hand—

He finishes and leans back and maybe curses out loud he can't quite tell what's connected to his brain anymore and he sits there for some amount of time until the sun is shining through the windows of the building across the street but he hasn't moved at all because Steve hasn't moved except for the rise and fall of his chest so all Bucky permits himself is the ability to breathe.

In all that stillness Bucky finds no rest. He's not the eye of the storm, that's misleading, he is not and has never been the eye. He is the storm but what rages within him cannot touch what exists outside him in the same way that a hurricane cannot touch the stars.

But when Steve's breathing changes, when his eyes flicker open, when he tilts his head to find Bucky, all of that disappears.

And when Steve says his name, it all comes roaring back.


Three gunshot wounds to the leg roughly equals the pain of being shot in the stomach. Five gunshot wounds spread throughout the body roughly equal the pain of being shot in the chest. Six repetitions of the same name, his name, are roughly equal to the pain of a lifetime spent apart.

One more repetition is equal to coming home.


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-RoR

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