Chapter 17: Stupid In Love
The early morning sun filtered in through the window and Steve rolled over in the unfamiliar bed. He gathered the pillow under his head, intent on burying his face to keep out the light. But he also had the uncanny sensation that he wasn't alone in the room. Squinting in the morning light, he found Bucky's form laying on the floor next to his bed.
The Winter Soldier lay with his back flat on the carpet, hands clasped at his middle and eyes open, staring at the ceiling.
"Mm... Bucky?" Steve asked groggily.
"Hey," he greeted.
"What are you doing?"
"Couldn't sleep. I... don't sleep very much anymore."
"Oh," was all Steve could think to say.
"Listen," Bucky went on, "I feel bad about what I said last night. About Peggy. I know you were sweet on her, and I was taken out early so I never knew if you two ever got together or anything."
"No," Steve sighed. "I was going to take her dancing after our last mission, but I ended up taking a 70-year-long ice bath instead."
Bucky barked out a laugh. "Steve, that's awful!"
"Tell me about it. I got to kiss her, though."
"Well, that's something, I suppose." Bucky sighed and then added, "I just want you to know I didn't mean any of what I said about her. I just wanted to rattle you, get you out of your own way."
"You wanted to piss me off," Steve accused with annoyance.
"It worked, didn't it?"
"She's still alive, you know."
Bucky glanced up at him. "Yeah? How's she doing?"
Steve sighed. "Not good. She has advanced Alzheimer's. It's... slowly killing her."
"Oh, then I'm sorry about that, too."
Steve flopped back on his bed, staring at the ceiling as well. "You know, I said the same thing to her. I said I was sorry and she yelled at me."
Bucky snorted. "Oh yeah? About what?"
"She got after me for feeling sorry for myself and for feeling sorry for her. She told me that she was happy, that she led a full life. She did all that she wanted to do and she didn't regret any of it and I shouldn't either."
"Classy dame, that Peg. They don't make too many like that."
"No, they don't," Steve agreed. "You know she had kids, Buck? And grandkids, too. She was so proud of them all."
Bucky nodded thoughtfully, and then, "Any of them hot?"
That comment earned him a pillow in the face.
"You were right about one thing, Buck," Steve then said, "Both of us were so stubborn. The truth is, I don't know what would have happened after that first date. I don't know if we would have made it or if we were both too bullheaded to make the other happy. I could be lamenting a possibility that never would have happened. I just regret that I never got a chance to find out."
Silence, and then Bucky's voice: "I'm starving. How about we get breakfast?"
Steve grinned. "Sounds good."
"And can we do something about my damn hair?"
Nearly forty minutes later, Steve and Bucky made an appearance at the cafeteria, Bucky's hair damp and back to its usual dark color. The cafeteria staff watched in dismay as the boys piled their trays high. Bucky winked at one of the girls who was staring at them, causing her to blush and look away with a smile. Apparently, not everyone was aware of who he was.
Steve just shook his head. Aaaand he's back, he thought
The two sat themselves at an empty table and dug into their high protein meal. After a while, Natasha stepped into the cafeteria. She spotted the two soldiers and made a bee line for them, pulling up a chair to join them at the table.
"Natasha," Steve greeted warily, not sure why she was there.
"Nice shiners," she nodded to both of them. "Have a disagreement already, boys?"
Steve frowned as he touched the angry red mark on his cheek. Bucky's was worse, a nice purple bruise around the outer part of his eye socket.
"Just guy talk," Bucky explained. "Wanted Steve here to get some perspective before he dumps the next girl for chewing her finger nails or eating too loud."
Steve looked to the ceiling, shaking his head, but Natasha seemed to approve.
"So how exactly can we help you, Natasha?" Steve then asked.
"I'm on escort duty today," she explained. "Making sure this one gets down for his psyche eval." She nodded toward Bucky.
Steve suddenly felt a little protective. Yes, he wanted Bucky to see a professional, but he felt like Natasha was going to march his friend off like a criminal and Bucky didn't deserve that.
The dark haired man at his side, however, calmly wiped his mouth with a napkin and stood. "Let's go. I'm ready."
Natasha smiled as she stood. Steve got to his feet, but she raised a hand to him. "Sorry Rogers, not you. Just him."
Steve plopped himself back down, looking a little lost.
Natasha gave him an amused look. "Don't worry, mama bird, I'll bring him back in one piece. See you in a few hours."
Steve had no other choice but to sit there and watch them go.
Bucky allowed Natasha to lead the way through the various halls and levels of SHIELD Central. As they entered the elevator, he stole a glance at the attractive redhead. If there's more agents like her, he thought to himself, I just might join SHEILD. He found himself smirking just slightly before Natasha noticed.
"You don't remember me, do you?" she said with a glance in his direction.
"Um... should I?" Bucky ventured. "One would think I'd remember an encounter with you."
"One would think," Natasha said flatly. She lifted up the edge of her shirt, revealing the fat scar on her side. "Iran. You hit me with a soviet slug while I was on escort duty. You don't remember any of that?"
Bucky faced forward, staring at the elevator doors while he furrowed his brows. "No, I don't. To tell the truth, there's a lot of Hydra I don't remember. Whenever they felt like they were losing control of me, they'd strap me down and wipe my mind clean. Over and over again."
Natasha stole another glance. For the first time, a look of sympathy for him crossed her features.
"But maybe it's not erased," Bucky went on. "Maybe it's all just packed away somewhere. I remembered Steve, I remembered my old life from before the war. Maybe you're in there somewhere, too." The elevator dinged their floor and Bucky looked over at the redhead. "I just... don't know if I want to find it."
"Pretending that those things you did never happened is the coward's way out," Natasha said as she stepped out.
Bucky winced. That comment hurt, but it was also very true. He followed Natasha to a closed door with the words "Dr. Adams" printed on it in gold letters. Natasha knocked. The door was answered a few moments later by a thin man in his 50's. His thick head of stark white hair seemed to suggest it had been of that color most of his life.
"Dr, Adams." Natasha nodded. "This is Sargent Barnes here for his appointment."
"Excellent, I was looking forward to it," he said as if he had such patients every day. "Sargent Barnes, a pleasure to meet you." The two shook hands, the older man not even flinching from Bucky's tight grip.
Natasha remained in the hall. "I'll collect him when you're finished." She turned on her heel, heading back toward the elevator.
Bucky blatantly watched her go. "She can collect me all she wants," he commented to himself.
Dr. Adams smiled at him. "Well at least you seem to be in good spirits. Come in and let's talk."
The place was somewhat utilitarian, but tasteful. Bucky noted no pictures of family or other personal relics for the SHIELD therapist. He was motioned to sit on a brown leather couch and Bucky did so, propping a foot on one knee and clasping his hands on his stomach.
Dr. Adams seated himself in a chair, notebook in his lap. "So, Sargent Barnes, do you mind if I call you James?"
"Most call me Bucky, I guess. Or they used to, you know, when people knew me. Now Steve just calls me Bucky."
"Would you like it if more people called you that?"
He paused to think. "Yeah, I think I would."
"Bucky, how do you feel about being in SHIELD right now?"
Something in the soldier wilted a bit at the question. "I... I'm still figuring that out. Being at SHIELD wasn't in my plan. I didn't feel I was ready to see Steve yet, but it all kind of happened. Now, I'm glad I'm with him again, but I don't feel all that comfortable here to tell the truth."
Adams scribbled a little in his notebook. "Thank you for being honest with me about that. Not many will admit when they feel that way, or their plans don't go the way they want."
Bucky shrugged. "Hey, that's me. I always tell it how it is. Lying certainly isn't going to help me out here. And I've got no secrets. I'm sure you guys know more about me than even I do at this point."
"What do you mean by that?"
"I'm sure SHIELD kept tabs on me; knew what I was doing as... him."
"The Winter Soldier."
"And why do you talk like you are not the one who did those things as the Winter Soldier?"
Bucky grew a little agitated at that point. He stood, body language tense. "Because that's not me, okay? I don't remember all the things they made me do, I just know they were bad. Things I never would have done if I was in control, not even if they were direct orders. Hydra wiped my mind right before I ran into Steve again. It's hard to feel like I even worked for Hydra when I hardly remember any of it."
He paced only a step or two and sat himself down again, this time his elbows rested on his knees. "Physically, they used my body as the Winter Soldier, but me, up here," he tapped his temple, "I wasn't present. The real me wasn't there."
Dr. Adams regarded him neutrally. "Doesn't that feel like you're just trying to pass the blame? Like you're trying to avoid the responsibilities of your actions?"
Bucky shot him a dark look. "You told me to be honest with you, Doc. I'm just telling you how I feel. I'm trying to explain to you what it's like to be me right now."
"And I appreciate that. You have also told me that you are capable of controlling yourself and your temper when confronted with this difficult subject."
"Well, I've never really had much of a temper. That was always Steve's problem. Couldn't keep his mouth shut for nothing. I had to be the calm one to keep dragging his ass out of the fire."
"Yes, back when he was younger. But Captain Rogers doesn't need your protection anymore."
Bucky smirked. "Doesn't make him any less of an idiot. He still needs someone to pound some sense into him now and then."
Adams gave a small smile. "You care about him very much."
"Of course I do, he's my best friend. He's like the little brother I never had. And he's all I've got left now."
Adams nodded and jotted a few more things in his notebook. "And what would you like to happen in the future, Bucky?"
He shrugged. "I dunno. I've just been taking it one day at a time." He gave a nostalgic smile. "When we were little, Steve always wanted to do whatever I was doing. Even when I joined the army. Now, I just want to do whatever he's doing."
"Captain Rogers works for SHIELD. Is that something you would like to do?"
"Wherever Steve's going, I'll go. Someone needs to keep an eye on that idiot."
Her fists against the solid, leathery weight of the bag felt good, refreshing. Marcy had been wanting to punch something for a while. Sleeping at SHIELD that night, staying away from her own house was difficult. It felt cowardly and Marcy was so tired of being scared; of feeling pathetic. She was tired of always waiting for the danger to come to her; she was ready to bring some danger of her own.
Unfortunately, every punch, every kick reminded her of her several week furlough while she recovered from her time in Hydra's lab.
She was out of shape, too slow. Michael Conner had beaten her in that alley and she wasn't even a challenge. In her prime she was faster than him, smarter than him. He had gotten the jump on her, allowing her surprise to leave her sluggish and stupid while he almost killed her. If it weren't for James, she would be dead and she hated that she couldn't save herself.
Each viscous blow to the punching bag made her feel a little better. She hadn't lost anything yet, she just had to get back in the game; get stronger, faster, and then Michael Conner would get his.
"Woah, easy there, tiger."
Marcy snapped her head around to find none other than Steve Rogers standing nearby. The t-shirt and sweat pants he wore told her he hadn't been looking for her, but just happened to fancy himself a workout while she was already in the gym.
"That's a scary look," he continued with a bit of amusement.
Still panting, Marcy straightened, wiping the sweat from her brow with a wrist. "Where's James? Or Bucky; or whatever he wants to be called."
"At his psyche evaluation."
She loosened a bit in surprise. "Really. He was okay with that?"
Steve shrugged. "Seemed to be. He gladly went with Natasha."
Marcy smirked. "Every man gladly goes with Natasha."
He smirked back, not feeling the need to make a verbal response.
Marcy rubbed her sore knuckles as she watched him. Today was different somehow. Being in his presence wasn't so difficult; in fact it was downright normal. Good. She didn't need her failed relationship with Steve to distract her. No doubt he would also be on the mission when they discovered where Hydra was hiding themselves. She didn't want his presence causing her to waver from her goal of smashing her fists in Michael Conner's stupid face. This would be the last time that Hydra traitor ever made a fool of her, she would make sure of it.
Steve noticed that scary look was returning as she glared darkly at the bag. "I don't think I've ever seen you work a punching bag." Or do much of any fight training, he realized. All he had ever seen of her was the wounded Marcy. Why did he find it so odd to see her make use of the SHIELD gym?
"I know," she agreed. "I've gotten flabby and slow." She began punching the bag with renewed vigor. "And pathetic," she muttered under the sound of flesh hitting leather.
Steve stepped in, putting an arm in the way in attempt to get her to stop. "You're not- you're not pathetic."
Marcy wouldn't look at him. She didn't need his validation, not anymore. "Is there something you wanted? I'm kind of busy right now."
Steve regretfully moved his arm. There was so much he still wanted to say and it was difficult to express the words. "I just... I still care about you and I worry about you. With what's going on with Hydra, I'm sure you're taking it very personal. I just don't want you to do anything hasty that will get yourself hurt or worse."
Marcy turned his way, not even looking up to meet his face. She made a sweeping motion with her arm and leg; so easy and quick Steve was unprepared. His feet were suddenly knocked out from under him and his back landed on the padded floor of the gym. He was still blinking in surprise at what happened when Marcy straddled him, sitting herself on his stomach, arms propped up on her knees.
"Personal, Rogers?" she said, looking him straight in his wide, blue eyes. "What I take personal is the fact that even though I've known my fair share of rejection, I've never given any man enough of my heart to break it. I know better. But then you come in with your big, earnest eyes and your... tight abs and that stupid, sexy blue suit of yours and you promise me that I can expect more from you."
Steve found he was only half listening. The glean of sweaty skin at her neck held his attention as his eyes wandered down to her exposed cleavage. That sight plus the breathy way she panted above him made his body warm in a way he was not prepared for.
"And I believed it!" she continued hotly. "Like a fool, I believed you and I fell all stupid in love with you and I can't go back from that now. And I am so mad at myself for trusting you, for thinking you were different. But you're just like everyone else."
Steve blinked at her. He could not remember a time when he had been accused of being just like everyone else. Then, something else stuck in his brain. "Wait. You said you're in love with me?"
Marcy huffed and stood up. "I said stupid in love," she clarified as she put a sneakered foot on those aforementioned tight abs.
Steve grabbed her ankle, holding it there as she tried to move away. "What's the difference?"
She fought to remove herself from his grasp, but he stubbornly held on. "It's when you're too dumb and happy to realize it's a bad idea. Guys like you don't stick around for girls like me and- let go of me, Steve!"
"No." His blue eyes stared at her stubbornly as he held her by her calf. His mouth was already running before his brain could catch up. "I want you. I'm not letting you go."
The words didn't seem to compute with Marcy as she fought and twisted out of his grip. Steve jumped to his feet, continuing to pursue her as she tried to gain some space. When it was obvious he wasn't going to give up, she snapped around, causing him to nearly collide with her.
"What, Steve?" she demanded. "What do you want from me?"
His eyes skimmed over her frantically, trying to find the words to express the pounding in his chest. When the vocabulary wouldn't come, he moved in, cupping her face in his hands and taking her mouth with his. Marcy froze, her eyes wide. They had kissed before, but Steve had never kissed her like that; with fingers in her hair, yanking her in, tasting her hungrily as his teeth dragged over her bottom lip before slowly pulling away.
The two stared at each other, both startled and panting. Steve's baby blue eyes seemed to have darkened in color somehow as he eyed her. Marcy slowly sucked on her bottom lip and that was all he could take. He rushed her again, bodily pinning her against the wall. Her shorter height made it difficult for him to kiss her while keeping his body flush against hers. Steve quickly solved that by hoisting her up by hips and she obediently wrapped her legs around his waist.
Pressed tight between the wall and the soldier, Marcy kissed him back, her fingers digging into his scalp, sending electricity down his spine. Her hands moved down his neck, over his shoulders while Steve's hands boldly went everywhere. Every little thing she did; every kiss, every touch, every quick intake of breath was setting his whole body on fire. Even though she was right there against him, it felt like her body was a mile away as long as those thin layers of clothing separated them. He burned to have her skin press against his in such a way that it felt like the desire alone would kill him.
In desperation to quench his hunger, his mouth attacked the skin of her neck. Her shuttering gasp, the way her legs jerked and tightened around him, only spurred him on. He tasted the salt of her sweat, the smooth texture of her flesh, and grew hungrier to taste every inch of her body. At the same time, Marcy clawed at his back, trying to remove his T-shirt. Steve moved to help her. He wanted all the cloth barriers between them gone. He wanted to rip the clothes from her body, leaving her exposed and panting for him. He wanted-
There was a heavy clattering sound behind him and the spell was broken. Steve blinked at the woman in his clutches, her lips red and swollen from his bruising kisses. He released her, setting her down to stand on her own as he put his feelings and hormones back in order. Steve pulled his shirt back down as they both turned to investigate the source of the interruption.
Near the gym door was Bruce Banner, desperately trying to recover a spilled pile of slippery binders that were scattered all over the floor. Even as he scrambled to stack them again, they would slip out of his grip every time he lurched forward to grab another one.
"I... uh... I'm sorry. I didn't see anything, I swear," he said in embarrassment as he continued to awkwardly gather his files. "I was never here- just... consider it forgotten. I won't remember a thing. Just look away."
Steve and Marcy glanced at each other, both secretly glad for the interruption before their sudden catharsis really got out of hand.
"It's fine, Bruce," Marcy assured him, slipping out of Steve's shadow and retreating a safe distance toward the scientist. "Were you looking for one of us?"
"You, actually," he said as Marcy stooped to pick up the rest of his files and plant them safely in his arms. "Thank you. SHIELD told me about the recent developments with Hydra and I've been pulling up all the information they have on your condition."
"What exactly are you looking for?" she asked, a bit defensive.
Bruce softened his tone. "I know this is a bit of a touchy subject and I'm sorry, but I've been reviewing the research on your condition. I found they would always use electric shock to invoke the response of your ability."
Marcy self-consciously started to rub her chilled arms. Talking about electricity always made her skin feel like it was dancing along an electric current. It was an uncomfortable sensation that made her nerves feel frayed at the edges and her muscles ache.
"Yeah..." she agreed hesitantly.
"And this is an involuntary response, correct?"
"Right. I don't really have control over it with electricity flowing through me. They would use it to make me fade."
She rubbed her arms again. Steve moved in closer. She could feel his presence like a heat at her side and she moved a step away from him. Steve didn't try to get closer a second time.
Bruce gave her a sincere look. "I'm sorry that happened to you, but we can use this information. The Hydra agents in their invisible state- if we shock them, they'll lose control, too, right? It would force them to flicker into the visible spectrum and we could see them."
Marcy blinked. "You know, it probably would work if you had something that could disperse electricity to a whole group of invisible agents."
"That's what I'm working on," Bruce said proudly. "I want us to be ready whenever Hydra decides to come slinking out of their hole."
"Though the invisible bodies still show up on thermal cameras and heat vision goggles," Marcy reminded. "And we've got plenty of those already in place to keep an eye out for Hyrda."
Bruce seemed unphased by this information. "Still, it doesn't hurt to have a backup plan. You never know what might come your way."
"This is true," Marcy agreed. "Make us something cool, Dr. Banner."
He smiled at her. "I'll do my best." And, after a glance at Steve, "You two kids have fun. I'll leave you alone now." With that, he was out the door.
Marcy just shook her head and turned to go, not even acknowledging Steve's presence. It seemed almost purposeful that she was trying to pretend he was not there. But Steve trailed her anyway. After what happened earlier he felt he needed to say something, needed to talk about how he felt. Marcy was almost to the woman's shower room and he could not follow her there.
"Hey," he quickly called after her.
Marcy paused, her hand on the shower room door. She looked back at him, her face a mask to what she was thinking.
"I think... I think I'm a bit stupid in love, too."
Her eyes widened at his statement. Then her awed gaze slowly returned to the door. She blinked once and walked inside, the door closing behind her. That was the last Steve saw of her for a long time.
"It went better than could be expected, actually," Dr. Adams reported on the vid screen. "Sargent Barnes was very personable and honest. He seems to be doing well despite what he's been through."
"Yes, but is he dangerous?" Fury asked the screen as he sat at his desk.
"All of your agents are dangerous, Director," Adams responded calmly. "If you're asking if Barnes is likely to suddenly become erratic and violent, I don't believe so. Even as the Winter Soldier, his actions were very calm and methodical. He is not an unpredictable man. And that persona is no longer in control."
"What do you mean persona?"
"In order to create the Winter Soldier, Hydra had to erase all trace of James Barnes from his recollection before rewriting his personality on a blank slate. Any time his root personality began to surface, they would wipe his memory and do it again. As such, Barnes sees the Winter Soldier as a completely separate identity from himself. He recalls very little of what he did as the Winter Soldier and talks about him like he's a different person."
"So you're talking like a multiple personality disorder," Fury surmised.
"In a way, yes. If Barnes' root personality had been in control, I don't believe he would have done any of the things he was ordered to as the Winter Soldier."
"Then what do we do if that personality comes up again?"
"I find it very unlikely that it will. It seems Hydra had to continually reinforce the Winter Soldier persona to keep it in place. Without Hydra, I doubt that personality will come back on its own. Especially if he continues to keep company with Captain Rogers. After meeting him again, their shared past was an integral part in breaking Hydra's hold on Barnes. Rogers is and will continue to be a positive influence on him."
Fury leaned back in his chair, taking a moment to think. "So you suggest we adopt him?"
Adams smiled at the word usage. "I don't see why not. He expressed interest in being a part of whatever Rogers was doing. He could end up to be a very good agent. However, I don't suggest throwing him into the fire just yet. I would like to have a few more sessions with him first. While he seems fine on the surface, you don't go through as much as Sargent Barnes did without some scarring."
"Agreed. There's also the problem of finding anyone who would want to work with him. I don't know how useful he'll be if he constantly follows Steve's shadow."
"May I suggest Agent Gray as a possible field partner for the future? The two seem to work well together."
Fury chewed on that idea for a while. He didn't know if that notion was brilliant or stupid. But he had been wanting Agent Gray to get back in the field for some time. Perhaps this would be the push she needed to take the idea seriously.
"I'll take it under consideration, thank you."
"Anytime." Dr. Adams smiled and signed off.
Fury sat in silence, leaning back in his chair and staring out the floor-to-ceiling window at the city below. The Winter Soldier had been a feared adversary for years- decades. The idea of now having him on their side was something he never would have imagined. But now he was presented with the possibility and it was almost too tempting to pass up.
"Director Fury," came a female voice over his intercom. "Agent Gray is here to see you. She says she needs just a moment of your time."
"Send her in, but tell her a moment is about all I have to spare."
"Will do, sir."
A few seconds later, Marcy stepped into his office. She wore civilian clothes, but there was nothing but serious business in the expression of her face.
"Make it quick, Agent. I have another meeting in five minutes."
"Sir, I have been ordered that I can't go home," Marcy said. "And I think staying at HQ for too long is going to drive me crazy. So I want to go somewhere else where I'll be safe, where Hydra won't find me. I want to go back in the field."
Fury raised a brow at her. He had already been plotting of having Gray train Sargent Barnes in SHIELD protocol as a way to get her working again. But her coming back to the field and of her own volition was even better. Barnes was nowhere near ready for such a thing yet, but there were always other agents.
"Alright, Agent, we'll get you a partner and get you out of here. I know exactly who I want to send with you."