AN- hello everyone, Nasomta here! I'm so sorry this update took so long, but I just finished finals not too long ago then immediately jumped into summer course. This might be a tad short for my chapters, but I needed to cut it here otherwise it'd drag on for ages and lessen the... impact. I hope you can forgive me for the wait! Also, head's up, a good deal of blood and violence in this chapter. Whoops. Setting up for the next arc of the story, and if I shorten my chapters a bit I can update more frequently. Prepare for some awful things.
When he opened his eyes this time there was no light, the space dark and silent, the reason for just why he was awake unclear. Several moments passed before he realized he was staring into fabric; the back of a couch, he determined. Unease breathed at the back of his neck, but nothing seemed outwardly wrong around him. However, something still felt off. His memories were slow to catch up with his awareness, but he pieced together where he was soon enough. This time his return to consciousness didn't come with any overwhelming paranoia, just a faint acknowledgment of his surroundings; it was a first for the soldier.
He hadn't moved at all since falling asleep, the skill of remaining completely motionless honed into a fine art. It was an ability he'd possessed even before HYDRA's conditioning; he half recalled something about sniping. The downside was that he was now rather sore, and he was sure the injuries he'd sustained earlier in the night had only been compounded by his lack of movement. He'd slept on his right arm, which hadn't done his dislocated joint any favors. He would be sure to alert his new handler to the injury come morning.
There was a momentary lapse before he corrected his thought. Not handler, Steve. The man was an odd sort of mystery in his head. He wasn't a handler, wasn't a white-coated tech, wasn't anything he was familiar with. Steve was Steve. He was a strange exception in a world of ridged rules and protocols. Normally such an obvious outlier would make him nervous, but Steve's presence was comforting and nonthreatening and achingly familiar.
Movement was difficult; now that the adrenaline and shock had worn off he felt the full force of the pain. Every muscle seemed to ache, a deep-seeded burn that spread from his skin to the deepest parts of him. His prosthetic creaked and the servos whined pitifully, the weeks of abuse and ill-care wearing at it. Getting into a sitting position took much more effort than he expected, but now that he had a clear view of the entire room he felt a little safer. The tentative feeling of security let him will himself to take stock of his situation.
The room hadn't changed except for the light having been flipped off, but the darkness was of no hindrance. He could see rather well at night, but whether or not that was inherent or due to HYDRA tampering he wasn't sure. Despite the fact that this place exuded a sense of safety that he'd never experienced before, checking the perimeter and his surroundings was so ingrained in him that he felt a compulsion to do it.
As he moved to get up, he noticed there was a second blanket covering him. Or had been, before he sat up and caused it to tumble off of him in a heap. Absentmindedly he reached out to pick it up, wincing a bit at the metallic whine of his artificial joints and tendons. Several of the plates were jarred out of place, clanking together unnaturally and restricting his range of motion. Dried blood mired the reflective surface, coming not from himself but from nameless HYDRA agents. As soon as he had recovered enough to be effective, he had gone and destroyed every safe house he knew of, killing every HYDRA agent he came across. He was going to destroy HYDRA all on his own if it came to that; they were going to regret ever having created him. He'd see to it.
"Mm, Buck?" the sleepy hum of the Captain broke the silence, the soldier's eyes cutting over in that direction. He hadn't even noticed the other man had placed himself in a nearby chair, now-open eyes regarding him tiredly. Keeping an eye on me? Making sure I don't escape? The second thought made his brow furrow a bit. No, that's not right. He somehow just knew that wasn't why he had opted to rest out here instead of returning to the bedroom.
The asset didn't respond verbally, but gave him a brief nod before he carried through with picking up the blanket. The nervousness was once again settling into the pit of his stomach, the sort of feeling he expected prey felt before a predator sprung from the shadows. It was such an unfamiliar feeling, as he was usually the lurking predator in question. He could hear Steve stretching and moving to get up, so he decided to remain seated; he had a feeling the Captain would fuss if he tried to get up and walk with his wounds.
"Feeling any better?" the other's voice was far too bright for it being so early in the morning. The assassin just watched as he tapped at a phone, glancing to him after the screen lit up. He took a moment to check himself mentally before he responded. His metal fingers hesitantly relinquished their grip on the blanket, instead wrapping gingerly around his shoulder joint, where the Captain had dislocated it in their struggle.
"… arm hurts." He mumbled quietly, lacking the robotic, monotonous quality that had previously dominated his voice. He knew that the Captain had seen the deep bruising and discoloration around the joint, as the bullet wound was plastered in the middle of it, but he was well aware that there was likely little he could do for it. Even he wasn't sure if it was just a dislocation, or if there was a fracture as well. The frown that appeared on the other man's face at his words was enough to make the nervousness he was experiencing leap to the front of his mind.
"We'll get it looked at, don't worry." His voice was always so soothing, "But…" discomfort, possibly even fear crept into the other's tone suddenly, serving to heighten the soldier's apprehension. His gaze was at his phone again, tapping his finger against it nervously. "… we can't stay here, we need to get somewhere safe." The sense of urgency was contagious, it seemed. The hairs on the back of his neck were on-end again, and the assassin was on his feet in a few seconds.
"Buck, are you sure you're alright to be up and—"the glare he directed at the Captain was much more threatening than he meant it to be, but he got his point across as the rest of the man's sentence withered in his throat. He wasn't fragile, he wasn't to be coddled; he was a weapon that was damaged and malfunctioning, not broken and useless. Weakness wasn't tolerated, his handlers had made sure to drive that into his programming.
"Give me a minute to get ready and get you a jacket, then we've gotta move out." Those were words the soldier remembered and associated with. Location compromised, moving to safety. It must be why he woke up; HYDRA must be closing in. It was enough to make his muscles stiffen with readiness, not wanting to be taken by surprise like last time. They wouldn't have that luxury. Not again.
Waiting was not in the Winter Soldier's repertoire, and instead of remaining still he was up and moving. The pistol he had dropped earlier was retrieved, inspected and placed into his pocket. There wasn't a lot of ammunition left in it, but enough to be useful. He'd done more damage with much, much less. Now that he was up he decided to do that perimeter check he'd been planning on. Steve was doing something in his room, so he avoided that room and checked every other one. His pass through the kitchen produced the knife he'd left that first night, still sullied with the Captain's blood, and a worn sketchbook. There was a twinge of guilt in his stomach that passed quickly as he placed the blade back into the sheath at his ankle. The small book, likely the one Steve had been bringing to show him, was tucked into his pocket.
The dull, aching burn in his muscles was pushed out of his awareness; now that there was a clear threat to him all pain was ignored. It was how he had been conditioned, trained and taught; pain was a weakness and only useful for determining damage after a successful mission. He hated to admit that he was nervous, but he was. He had the beginnings of fragile trust in Steve, but this had the makings of a trap. Suddenly relocating after arriving? Departing hours before the sun rose, when no one would ever notice their passing? It was enough to set off warning bells in the soldier's mind.
"Buck," the Captain's hesitant voice broke his thoughts, eyes cutting over to where the other man was peeking in from the door, "Are you ready?" again with questions, again with asking him things. It was still a strange and unusual concept to the asset, used only to demands and orders. He responded only with a curt nod, taking a jacket that the other offered to him. It was somewhat big on him, but worn and soft and comfortable nonetheless. Nothing like the rigid combat gear HYDRA had outfitted him with. In a way he felt vulnerable, missing the reassuring weight and constriction of his body armor.
Steve had a small pack slung over his shoulder, the contents of which the soldier didn't know, and shield strapped to his arm. It was clear, however, that they were likely not coming back, not for a long time at least. There was no sentimental attachment to this place for him, he didn't have any sentimental attachments honestly, but he did know this place and knew it was safe in his mind, so leaving it didn't sit right in his mind. He did know, however, that staying would end in certain HYDRA custody or death.
Ushered out into the hall, the soldier only moved when prompted by his new handler. No, Steve. His senses were on alert, although still dulled and sluggish from the blood loss earlier. The sleep and bandaging had improved his awareness a bit, although even with his serum it would take a few more hours before he would be in a condition he was comfortable with. He just watched as Steve tapped at his phone, door pulled shut behind him. It was only after he read some text message for the fifth time that he suddenly froze.
"Shit." Now that got a reaction out of the soldier. He should have startled, should have stiffened and immediately taken notice that something was very wrong, but his only reaction was to tilt his head and look at the Captain with a surprised expression. Steve… swearing? For some reason it didn't feel right in his mind and the unusualness of it all nearly made him stumble over his own feet. Nearly. It was fleeting and lasted only a moment.
"We need to move. Now." the words spilled out of the blond man suddenly, a hand grabbing his right arm without warning and tugging him down towards the stairs. Normally such an unexpected action would have warranted a swift punch to the jaw, but the startled tone in the other's voice alerted him that something was very, very wrong. He didn't resist, letting Steve lead him swiftly down the stairs and towards a back door, the other man mumbling the entire way about something about the text having been wrong. Muffled voices—HYDRA, Strike team—filtered through the walls from outside, formless shadows visible through the frosted glass of the front doors.
Subtly was thrown out the window as Steve kicked the back door open and bolted outside, the asset stumbling and fighting to keep up with the jolting motion. The man had yet to let go of his arm, guiding him through narrow alleyways and side streets in a path that seemed predetermined. He didn't know the plan, which was a source of anxiety in and of itself, but Steve clearly had something in mind, so for the first time he—trust was too strong a word—relied on the other's decisions to get them out of harm's way.
HYDRA agents were all over, dressed in varying uniforms of Strike and police and others he did not recognize. They shouted as they tried to corner them, seemingly appearing from nowhere from alleyways and cars and from behind objects. Steve did not engage them, instead pulling him along as he ducked and weaved dizzyingly between buildings and sleepy streets. He had a set destination in mind, the asset could tell, and even though the sight of HYDRA angered him into considering pulling away to fight, he knew it was too risky to separate himself from the Captain.
Unfortunately, HYDRA did that for him. There was a sudden, jarring shout from one of the alleys they were about to blow past, and before either could react the darkened space filled with blinding light and a concussive sound. Flashbang. Steve yelled something but the asset didn't hear, the grip on his arm lost as the other covered his ears. Even before the white left his vision, formless shapes surrounded them as agents appeared to spring from the very walls to box them in. Wordlessly, the assassin and the Avenger stood back to back, fitting into formation as easily as if it was something they did every day. The pistol was pulled from his pocket, knowing that even with little ammo it would be more effective at the moment than a knife. There was a brief flash of familiarity in his mind, but the situation around him drowned it out almost instantly.
"Drop your weapon and surrender the asset, Captain Rogers!" a husky voice barked out, a dozen barrels of a dozen guns aimed at them. He could feel Steve tense against his back, but so vastly outnumbered and outgunned any outburst now would likely end in one or both of them dead.
"… Steve." He wasn't sure just why he spoke, or why his voice was softened and hinted with an accent he only vaguely recalled, but he did. It was a sort of rash, sudden need to ground himself in the present, to remind himself that the man behind him was indeed the Steve he could so faintly remember. His statement, however, had an unintended consequence.
"The asset's compromised," that growling voice spoke again, "he'll need to be wiped and reconditioned if we're going to salvage this." That statement triggered an intense, shattering terror in the assassin the likes of which he could not recall. Broken memories of deafening electricity crackling madly, of being tied down and unresisting and passive, suddenly swam in his mind and broke through his calculating combat mindset. Without thought he pressed himself further against Steve's back, as if somehow he could hide from his own horrifying memories in the other's presence.
"Buck, it's alright," voice hushed and gentle, the Captain spoke only loud enough for him to hear, "You've got to work with me, we're going to work together to get out of this, just follow my lead." It wasn't worded as an order or command, and as such disoriented the soldier for a moment, but that fragile ideal of trust settled in to fill in the gaps and his only response was a slight nod that went unseen. They could do this.
There was no warning for the HYDRA agents, shield thrown and colliding with several and incapacitating them while three expertly placed and near-simultaneous bullets downed three permanently. They moved in sync, still keeping each at their back even after separating and lunging at the ring of agents that surrounded them. The now-useless pistol had been abandoned in favor for a blade, which was used to swiftly and efficiently disable and kill two more agents before they could even fire off a round.
The resonant clang of the shield behind him let him subconsciously track the Captain's movements, even as he threw himself into the tangle of agents in front of him. He used the knowledge that he was wanted alive to his advantage, as he knew they wouldn't dare try to shoot him at such close range as it would likely irreparably damage him and they would lose their prized asset. It couldn't have worked better for him, as he was just as comfortable and deadly dispatching a target at close range as he was sniping.
An agent was slammed against the nearby wall, razored blade deftly sliding between neck vertebras to kill his target instantly. Without a moment's hesitation he was upon another, moving with all the predatory grace of a hunting cat, throat slit and body casually dropped as if it were little more than a discarded jacket. The remaining two agents in his field of view turned and bolted, and had he been on his prior missions of annihilating HYDRA installations around the city he would have pursued them relentlessly, but now he barely acknowledged their escape. Instead, he spun on his heel to where Steve was fighting, wasting no time engaging the remaining agents that swarmed him.
His blood-sullied blade dipped into the throat of a Strike member readying to shoot Steve's back, a gurgled wheeze of horrified shock the only noise that escaped before he was roughly shoved aside. Sticky crimson soaked deep into his jacket and clothes beneath but little regard was given to it; the horrors of his actions seemed as commonplace as any daily act to him after decades of repetition. Another HYDRA infantrymen lunged at Rogers with a stun baton, but the soldier intercepted him, slashing with a precise stroke that opened the man's torso as easily as a zipper. He fell noiselessly into a jumbled heap of blood and viscera at the Captain's feet, a non-threat.
Soon only a few hostiles remained, mostly stepping far back and firing as many rounds as they could at Captain Rogers. The asset refused to leave the man's side again, tucked up close near him in an effort to deter any more firing, and to his dim surprise it seemed to work. The agents backed away even farther, guns raised but triggers untouched, eyes locked on them. He took the brief lull in fire to glance at Steve for a moment, to assess his condition. He was on his feet, but blood had soaked his right leg from a bullet wound to the calf. A slash from a knife tore through his jacket and into his side, while red dribbled from his saturated sleeve from another entry wound. He was standing, for the moment, but the soldier knew that even with the serum the blood loss would catch him quickly.
Steve asked something, something about how he was holding up or the like, but the assassin didn't catch it. Instead his attention was elsewhere when his eyes caught a brief flash of light from the roof of a building two streets over. His heart fell into his stomach and his shout of warning was lost to the rifle crack when the realization hit. Of course, the bullet hit first, just not in the place HYDRA had wanted it.
The soldier had reacted instinctively, kicking the back of Steve's injured leg hard enough that he buckled. His sudden movement meant the bullet, aimed for a kill shot on the Avenger's heart, instead struck and slid off the slant of his shield and hit his collarbone. A second bullet, fired milliseconds after the first from a likely second sniper, caught him across his already-slashed ribs, blossoming open as if it were a grotesque flower. The strangled cry of shock and pain that left the man as he crumpled to the ground snapped something buried deep beneath HYDRA programming, and within a half-second he had grabbed Steve by his arm and pulled him into a small alcove between two buildings. He heard two more bullets strike the asphalt where they had been moments before, and knew that HYDRA was likely not going to take Steve alive.
All thoughts of the remaining HYDRA agents were abandoned at the sound of Steve's raspy breathing, the assassin leaning him against the building wall as to hopefully ease it some as he leaned down to his level. Even though the shield had absorbed most of the energy of the round, the wound was devastating. The bullet had shattered his collarbone, flesh torn and ripped and blood dripping freely. A dribble of the crimson stained the Captain's chin, breath labored and choking and heaved in and out. His lung's been punctured, probably collapsing. The second bullet had no doubt shattered his ribs, and the awful torn wound was jagged and blown apart by the unimpeded bullet's passing. It was a grim prognosis.
The sounds of the agents trying to regroup from the attack were hardly registered, hands pressed to the man's injury in a desperate attempt to stem the flow of blood. A pained cough escaped the former SHIELD agent, reddened mouth slackened open as he tried again and again to fill his lungs full to no avail. "B… B-Buck…" he slurred wetly through the blood, half-lidded eyes beginning to glaze over as unconsciousness loomed, "… got t-to… get… a-away…" shock was setting in, body trembling under the assassin's hands, but he mustered the energy to nudge him with the shield in a halfhearted attempt to push him into running. He wanted him to leave him behind, to save himself from falling back into HYDRA's control. The very thought of it twisted the soldier's stomach in a knot and caused his breath to catch in his throat.
"S-Steve," his normally-emotionless voice was shaky and small, fear filling every inch of him as trembling, blood-stained metallic fingers brushed golden hair away and cupped the Captain's cheek to hold his gaze on him, "You've gotta hold on," his eyes began to sting as an unfamiliar heat and blurriness began to build, "I-I'm not leaving you behind." Something had woken up deep in his mind, faint ghosts of memories of battles long past. Of fights in alleys where both refused to run away, never leaving the other's side. It was such a strong emotion that consumed him that he couldn't ever hope to fight it, and strangely enough, he possessed no will to resist it.
Footsteps and barked orders behind him drew him from his withdrawn, focused state. It was like a switch flicking in his head, and within the space of a breath he had taken the shield from Steve's faltering grasp and spun around, keeping himself between the agents and his injured partner. His vision was blurred and his eyes stung fiercely, an unfamiliar wetness trailing down a cheek, but he didn't move from his defensive stance, rooted to the spot with shield held solid in his metal prosthetic. The plates whirled and slid together with a groan of protest, ready to lash out with the vibranium disk at the slightest movement.
"Get away!" he snarled in a voice so loud it startled the men, "Get away from him!" he swung the shield at an agent that dared to approach, knocking him clean off his feet and sending him tumbling. The sharp, ripping pain as his own shoulder wound tore caused him to wince, but it was immediately stuffed down as he had much more important things to focus on. Seeing their own knocked away so easily, even while he was in such a state, caused the others to take heed and back away a few feet. Even though his joint protested, he retrieved and hid a blade in the palm of his injured arm, keeping it disguised behind the shield. If they got close again they would be in for a nasty surprise.
"This is… unexpected." The same agent who spoke earlier piped up, rifle trained on the pair with deadly intent, "Looks like the programming has decayed more than anticipated. General Lukin isn't going to be pleased." That name was familiar, and struck a fear like a dagger of ice into the soldier's heart. He pressed himself back, shield held higher in a desperate attempt to keep the agents at bay. Steve moved behind him, whimpering in pain, and a moment later the former Soviet felt his hand press reassuringly to his back in a wordless gesture of trust. It was enough to steel his nerves, to dispel his own fear just enough to focus on the agents who had chanced to venture further.
With an almost animalistic roar, he leapt at the nearest agent, jamming the sharp edge of the shield into his ribcage, crushing it like a flimsy can. He dropped into a tangle of limbs, and he used the moment of confusion to swing at another, feeling the agent's skull cave under the impact. The shield was brought down on the neck of another agent, while the knife in his right hand pierced the torso of one rushing at him. As he swiveled to lunge at the seeming-commander he froze mid-strike, eyes wide with terror, when he saw that another agent had a gun trained to the downed Captain's head.
"No!" the word clawed its way out of him, shield and blade falling from his hand in a show of submission, eyes wide with feral panic. "D-don't do it." He'd never demanded anything from anyone, not in all his active years, but he was now. He was scared, desperate and out of options, pleading like one of his victims to spare the other man's life. The commander's gravelly voice broke into a laugh behind him, but before he could round on him he felt a pinprick on the back of his neck, followed immediately by a burst of warmth that spider-webbed through his body. His knees buckled and vision swam, awareness growing fuzzy as he collapsed to the ground. He gasped out Steve's name, tried to push himself back up, but he couldn't even prevent his eyes from sliding shut a heartbeat later. His hearing muffled, but the last thing he was aware of was that growl of a voice ordering the surviving agents to take the both of them before everything drained away into nothingness.