AN- Hello, Nasomta here. Going to make this quick. This is my first time writing a Marvel fic and I hope you like it! Not overly shippy, but it'll be full of angst and fluff and sappiness soon enough. Lots of focus on recovery and integrating Bucky back into society, the Avengers, and into humanity in general. This is just a recap chapter of sorts, an intro into the plot that's starting next chapter. I hope you like it!
"I'm with you to the end of the line."
The words rang in the soldier's head, clouding his thoughts, replaying over and over and over. The steel girders creaked and groaned, jolting violently with a great shuddering sigh of fatigued metal as the Insight Helicarrier lost its integrity. He scarcely felt it, eyes fixed on the water below, where his mission had fallen. Anchored to the structure, unable to bring himself move, he for the first time felt something so foreign it faltered his concentration. It was an emotion so strange, so unfamiliar, that he couldn't even put a name to it.
"… I'm with you to the end of the line." the words more or less tumbled out in response, a flat mimicry that left a bitter taste in his mouth. He both knew and didn't know that sentence. Familiar and foreign, yet powerful nonetheless. The disintegrating Helicarrier was hardly acknowledged, an odd internal war drowning it out. The asset had been presented a choice. For as long as his fractured memory could span, he had only been told what to do, fed orders and commands with no room for thought. This was new, this was unexpected, and it was terrifyingly unfamiliar.
Seconds ticked by, although they might as well have been hours. Differing options and a hundred different scenarios whirled through his mind. One, however, stuck. Jump down, get him. Just why that option was voiced so strongly in his mind was a mystery, but it wasn't rooted in HYDRA's tampering. His mission had been completed, his target eliminated, he was to report back, but he realized he had a choice. He could make his own choice. He didn't have to listen. He didn't have to report back. There was a slight twitch in the corner of his mouth as bits of programming were violently shrugged off, grasping at the realization he could chose his actions for himself. The choice was made. He released his hold on the twisted spire of metal, falling silently and quickly to the turbulent water.
The impact didn't stun him, but the sudden envelopment of the cold waters did. The suffocating darkness, the disorientation of the churning currents, the sinister, icy embrace of the river, it triggered something in him that transcended all the programming and reinforcing to his mind. Fragments of memories, broken images and muffled voices filled his mind, but it was too eroded to make anything clear. Reaching towards an outstretched hand, biting wind, a frantic scream, falling, falling endlessly… then cold, choking, swirling darkness. The sudden rush of corrupted memories and haunting familiarity startled him, his lungs almost losing their grip on his precious oxygen as he jolted out of his daze. The water around him might not as been as cold as in that broken memory, but it was cold enough to trigger a strange sort of primordial fear in him that the soldier didn't even realize he had.
It all happened in the span of a moment, and still recovering from the jarring, intrusive memories he swam downwards, deeper and deeper, down towards the bottom. The water was fetid, choked with oil and fuel and blood, burning his eyes and wounds as he descended. His shoulder buckled with every forced movement, the dislocated joint crackling in pain and protesting every action. He scarcely cared, so focused that the pain was merely a faint recollection in the back of his mind. The pressure in his ears, the searing ache in his lungs, they were instantly forgotten when he caught a flash of a blue uniform through blurred vision. There was only one thing that could be.
Metal fingers blindly grasped at the murk, a panicked desperation growing inside him as his head swam from his rapidly depleting oxygen. I should have taken a deeper breath. He silently cursed the lack of sensation in his artificial limb; his other arm was too injured to be of any use anymore, now so painful from the strenuous movement that he could barely swim. There was another fleeting glimpse of blue, and the soldier made a quick grab for it, his palm roughly contacting something solid with a thunk. No time. There was no time to make sure. The cold of the waters was sinking into his bones, the strength bleeding from his already exhausted muscles as his oxygen diminished with panic setting in. Panic in and of itself was an alien sensation, something he hadn't experienced but on scant few occasions.
He was scared. He was scared for himself. He was scared for the other man for reasons that eluded his confused mind. The battered soldier subconsciously tightened his grip, struggling to swim back to the surface, the added weight and his now all-but-useless arm slowing him down dangerously. His lungs retched, desperate for fresh oxygen. If he was ailing this badly then the other man surely had already drowned. For some reason, that thought filled him with a heavy dread he had not yet experienced. Why did he even feel this way?
The surface flickered seemingly just out of reach, a cruel taunting goal so tantalizingly close yet seemingly lifetimes away. Bubbles escaped his mouth as he pushed himself as hard as he could those last precious seconds, and he finally broke the surface. Gasping raggedly after coughing up a mouthful of tainted water he pulled the other man to the surface, taking an unexpected (for him at least) amount of care not to accidentally injure him further, sparing him a glance once he was sure he wouldn't sink under the water from exhaustion. He didn't like what he saw. His skin was pale and there was no rapid, thankful inhale of oxygen, just an unsettling stillness and silence. For some reason it bothered him. It bothered him a lot.
There was a brief moment where he felt words building in his throat. A name perhaps, he couldn't be sure; the words left his mind as quickly as they appeared. Treading water while holding the man up by his upper arm so his head remained above the water, the Soviet tried to collect himself, tried to work out just what he was going to do next. Why had he even done this? He was supposed to kill this man, so why the hell had he jumped into the Potomac and nearly drowned himself trying to save him? That statement of his, before the collapse, it'd sparked something in him. Memories, an emotion; it'd done something and he wanted to know what. That had to be why he'd done this, why he'd chosen, for the first time, to risk his life over another person.
A weak cough sounding far too pitiful for someone of the man's stature escaped his target, a dribble of bloody water leaking from his mouth. It was the first sign of life the man had shown, so at least now it was obvious he still clung to life; it filled him with an unexpected, and unwelcome, sense of relief. His target looked oddly delicate, small even, bloodied and bruised by the assassin's own hands. For some reason, it bothered him; he looked familiar, so painfully familiar. Flashes and pieces of memories slogged through programming, images trickling into his mind of a scrawny boy covered in bruises and cuts with warm eyes and a lopsided smile. I had him on the ropes, Bucky. Like hell you did, Steve. The conversation was entirely unknown to him, yet there it was within his own mind. Bucky. The man had called him that. The boy in the memory had the same face, the same voice as the man, yet he was also different, with his thin frame and scrappy clothes and bony limbs. Talked with a loving familiarity toward the one known as Bucky, looking up with him with a gentle, appreciative gaze. It was confusing and the soldier was irritated at his inability to understand what any of this meant. Maybe once he regained consciousness this man could tell him just what these broken memories, if they even were memories, meant.
It hurt like all hell, but with no other options he had to swim with his injured arm; he couldn't keep treading water much longer, and he knew that any remaining SHIELD agents would be searching the waters soon. Abandoning the grip on his arm, he knotted one of the uniform straps into his metal fingers, giving him a more secure grip. He didn't dare let go of the man for even a moment now that he was swimming, knowing that if he slipped below the surface he wouldn't have the strength to get him again. The sound of helicopters and aircraft congregating around the doomed Helicarrier made him swim faster; for all his skills and experience, in his current condition, he wasn't sure if he'd be able to escape or fight off a large enough group. Now that he had the man at the surface and wasn't as overcome with fragments of memory, the pain was starting to creep into his awareness. He wanted to stop, to catch his breath and rest, but he knew if he did the both of them would likely drown, or worse, he'd be captured.
Keep moving, don't stop. The swim to shore was as difficult as the dive, possibly even more so. The sharp pain in his arm had turned into a hot ache; the grinding in his joint had gotten worse, and the possibility of a fracture was now very real. The other man's unconsciousness was a blessing in disguise; he couldn't thrash or pull away from him like this; he would be very tempted to let him drown if he tried to put up a fight right now. The earlier confusion and disorientation was slowly turning into pained irritation. Before this everything had made sense. Nothing had been confusing or complicated; he was awoken, fed orders, maintained, deployed, and then put back to sleep to start the process over. There were no memories to haunt him, no guilt or remorse, so why, why now were these broken semblances of humanity appearing in his mind?
The water soon was shallow enough to stand, the Soviet letting out a soft exhale that could have passed as relief as he was able to plant his legs beneath him and stand. His injured arm was gingerly held close to his chest, every slight movement sending a jolt of pain through him. For the first time he felt the pounding ache in his leg, where he'd been pinned under the girders. He hadn't really noticed before if he'd been injured, having been far too focused on killing his target. This would complicate his escape. His grip on his target's uniform strap never wavered, pulling him ashore as he was too tired, too hurt to pick him up. He's heavier than I remember. He wasn't sure why he remembered him being lighter; he was sure he hadn't seen him before. Or, he thought he hadn't. There was a brief moment where he missed the simplicity of HYDRA, where these painful and confusing thoughts were absent from his mind, but it was dismissed a mere second later. Despite this confusion and the pain ringing between his ears as his brain tried to make sense of everything, he somehow knew this was better than anything HYDRA had done to him.
Rather unceremoniously, the soldier dropped his target onto the bank, far enough out of the reach of the water to be safe from drowning. Gentleness was still an alien concept. The corner of the man's mouth twitched slightly, a gurgling cough of river water his only reply to the jarring placement. The buzz of helicopters and aircraft hummed in the Soviet's ears; he needed to escape, to hide himself, to figure out what to do next. The urge to run built in his chest, but he ignored it for a few precious seconds. Weary eyes scanned the unconscious man, making a mental tally of his 'handiwork'. The bullet wounds were oozing blood; the one to the man's abdomen had gone clean through, and he dimly acknowledged the internal damage he must have suffered. There was a fleeting sensation of disappointment. Relatively immobile, very close range, no wind; pitiful work, it should have taken one bullet. Innumerable scrapes, cuts, bruises and lacerations, doubtless internal bleeding, broken bones likely; despite all of the injuries he'd still refused to fight him. It was so confounding to the soldier that he had no idea how he should respond to that information.
The pain in his leg was demanding his attention, building from a dull ache to a hot, pulsing agony. Fractured, perhaps, but he would deal with that later. His keepers would—his keepers were gone. A flickering moment of panic settled into his mind. Where do I go? He could treat his injuries, he'd done it more times than he could remember, but what came after was a frightening mystery. He felt like he needed to report back, to report to someone. He had never been truly on his own before, always tethered with an invisible leash to his HYDRA keepers. Now that link was severed, and he was alone.
It was difficult to walk away. The Soviet wasn't sure why, but it was. The need to escape, to hide himself away and lick his wounds clean and recoup, however, was stronger than whatever fleeting emotion wanted him to stay at the man's side. And so he walked. He walked, and walked, ducking between SHIELD agents scattered by the day's events, around law enforcement and military, avoiding any human being he came across. He needed someplace quiet, someplace dark and safe, where he could heal and fashion some sort of plan. Within moments, he was gone, a ghost slipping from reality as easily as a mirage, leaving hardly a trace of where he had headed.
He didn't spare the man he'd risked his life to pull from the river a backwards glance.