AN: This ship. I swear it's goal in life is to destroy me. This fic just came out of nowhere and demanded to be written. Muchos love to Angelycdevil for bossing her way into my doc, Packy, DSS_12, and Courtney for always flailing over teasers, and MyHeroin for betaing and being generally awesome. I love you guys so damn much!
song for the chapter, The Spectator - The Bravery
His Eyes Like Two Cats Scratching in His Head
Bucky, The Winter Soldier, the Asset, whoever he really is, finds himself drawn to New York City. He stays hidden-he's good at that-and chases half remembered ghosts and memories he isn't sure are memories. The only thing he knows for certain is where he should be.
New York City. He repeats the words to himself a few times, changing the cadence and accenting different parts. He's not quite sure what he's looking for, until he finds it. The way the thick accent feels on his tongue sparks a half formed memory. A frail, sickly boy, taking a punch because he stood up to some bullies who were making fun of another child's accent.
The Soldier scoffs. To him, its a waste. Why take a punch, just to protect a weaker person? There's nothing to gain there.
Steve. The part of him that's still Bucky reminds him. His name is Steve.
He connects that face to the one from the bridge and the one he pulled out of the water. They're nothing alike. The boy was too thin, like he would snap in the first strong gust of wind. The man had been able to fight him. He's not sure how the two are connected. Are they connected? Or is this memory not a memory at all? It could just be another Hydra lie. He has no way of knowing and this makes him angry, which in turn brings out the Asset.
The Asset, much like the Soldier, lives for the mission and nothing is more important. Get the mission done. Target acquired. Target neutralized. Do everything right, and the pain is less. The pain is never really gone, but it could be less and Bucky reached for every straw he could get.
The Asset is without a mission for the first time in his life and he's not happy. He feeds off the Soldier's anger and Bucky's frustration and will occasionally take control. He goes after Hydra agents unaware that The Soldier and Bucky send him after them. They know they can't control the Asset, but they can keep him from hurting innocents.
New York isn't anything like Bucky remembers it. It scares him. Nothing looks right. Part of it looks like a war went through it. The buildings seem to be taller, the cars faster, and how are there are there more people?
Bucky manages to force the Asset and the Soldier to Brooklyn. He doesn't remember much, but he remembers Brooklyn. He remembers alleys where he would have to rescue Steve. He remembers jazz dance halls and army recruiting stations. He's looking for something, something he can't put his fingers on. Hydra turned his brains to scrambled eggs, and it hurts almost as trying to unscramble them as it hurt scrambling them.
The Soldier keeps them safe, always on the move, never still enough that Hydra or S.H.I.E.L.D. can find them. The Asset is a mess of anger and misdirection. Then there's poor, lost Bucky. Trying to put his memories back together. Trying to find that elusive thing right on the edge of his mind that he can't name, he just knows he needs it.
Three men living in the same body. There's only so long that can last.
In Brooklyn, at least they're able to find some sense of stability. Even better, the longer they're there, the more Bucky is able is able to gain some control. He's timid and uneasy at first, but it feels good. The memories are hazy and he still has no idea what he's looking for, but he's looking and that's good. That's right.
The Asset even quiets. Bucky can still feel him, all that pent up rage is locked up and he knows it won't stay that way for long. He has a small window of time.
The first thing Bucky does is cut his hair. The Soldier tries to fight him on it, but Bucky fights back. He hates that fringe of hair. Its annoying, always falling in his eyes and he knows, he KNOWS, that its was never this long then. He decides to cut it short and he does it. He knows it looks awful, but he's not worried about that. No one sees him anyway. What is important is that he got to choose. He got to control for the first time in seventy years. He gets to do what he wants.
Nights are the worst. None of them like sleeping. The Asset and The Soldier don't like how defenseless it makes them. Bucky doesn't like the nightmares. Sometimes they'll spark new memories, but these memories hurt. Kills, pain, humiliations, loss, terror, panic. Every night its the same thing, and he starts trying to sleep less to fight it.
He learns pretty quickly that fighting sleep just makes him weak and gives the other two more ammo. It's hell all over again and Bucky hates it. He learns to put up with the nightmares, because that's how he keeps control, but they never go away. He wakes up every night, behind whatever dumpster he's managed to hide behind, screaming and soaked in sweat. He doesn't go back to sleep and shakes for the rest of the night, like when he was a kid and scared of the thunder. But it's okay, because he can keep control that way and that's all that matters.
Its the Asset that figures out they have a tail. It's terrifying. It could be any one. A Hydra agent there to take their weapon back, a S.H.I.E.L.D agent to arrest him, and any number of third parties. The Soldier is calculating possibilities, debating where to go now, what needs to happen next. The Asset wants to unleash all that pent up anger. He finally has a target. The Soldier has a mission.
Then there's Bucky. Bucky who is tired of fighting. Bucky who thinks he might never be warm again. Bucky who is still searching, for what he doesn't know. Bucky who wants to be complete. Bucky wants to stop running. He wants to escape and find a deeper foxhole if he has to.
Bucky is still too weak to fight the other two. He can at least keep the Asset under control, so the Soldier can do what he does best. Stay one step ahead. Start a goose chase. Never visit the same place twice. Always keep an eye out for the tail, for anything that will tell them who is following them, and who they're working for.
This goes on for days, weeks? Bucky isn't very good at keeping track of time. He still doesn't think very clearly. He thinks he blacks out sometimes. That doesn't help and with the tail, The Soldier controls more. He doesn't care about time, just about what it takes to shake the tail. The Asset only cares about the anger.
Finally, he catches a glimpse of the tail. Its a woman, thin and lithe with fiery red hair. He recognizes her. She was with the man on the bridge. This makes Bucky wake up again. He knew the man on the bridge. His name was Steve, and he was important. He's not sure why yet, but he was.
The Soldier and The Asset want to attack, but Bucky stops them. He's something he can't remember feeling in a long time, he's curious. Maybe she knows how to get to Steve.
The Soldier has a new mission. Follow the tail. They lead the woman on, getting just close enough to tease and, then running away. Cat and mouse.
It takes a while, of that Bucky's sure, but finally two more join her on an op. There's the dark one with wings—he must have found a new pair—and Steve. He's the clear leader. He's the one who tells the others not to use deadly force. That gives Bucky a odd, warm glow. It makes the other two nervous. Why did they want to capture him? What were they going to do to him?
He has no intentions of being taken alive.
Things go from bad to worse for Bucky. This is serious. This is life and death, and there's a part of him that doesn't want to run anymore, but with adrenaline pumping through his riddled system, he wasn't in control. The Soldier is for now, but the Asset is right under the surface, and it wouldn't take much for him to blow. All that rage and three perfectly good targets. Targets that have shattered the fragile order in his life.
There is nothing that Bucky could do. He tries to take control. He tries to tell the other two not to hurt them. Until this day, he hasn't realized how much of a prisoner he is in his own body. He breaks the woman's elbow with a twist of his metal arm, and the Asset rejoices. He grounds the man with the wings, likely a concussion, medical attention would be needed.
Then there is the real target. They call him Captain America. The Asset cackles, the Soldier prepares, and Bucky screams. Not Steve. They need Steve. He doesn't know why, but they need Steve. Steve is the key. Steve can help. Don't hurt Steve.
Bucky fights like hell. That's all he knows to do, but he doesn't have an edge. Fortunately, he and Steve are pretty evenly matched. That also means there's only one way for this to end. The Asset is firmly in control and he doesn't care about surviving. He just cares about the mission and Steve is the mission.
Steve talks during the whole fight. He begs Bucky to remember, he barely fights back. It drives the Asset crazy. He just wants a fight that Steve won't give him. Bucky wants nothing more than to answer, he wants to stop fighting, he wants to stop running. He just wants to stop.
The inevitable comes. The Asset manages to pin Steve down, and is just seconds away from finishing the job. Bucky can't let that happen and just manages to wrench control away from The Asset before the blow comes down.
He stumbles backwards, falling to his knees as a whole new battle breaks out in his head. He screams, just to let the let sound out, just to release the pressure. The fingernails on his real hand brake through skin. The last time he remembers pain this bad was the last time they scrambled his brain.
"Bucky!" He looks up to find Steve approaching. His wide blue eyes may have been worried, but the The Asset and The Soldier only see a threat, and Bucky can't hold on.
"Stop. Stop. Stop." He groans. Trying to fight back, barely able to breath, barely able to think, barely holding on. Steve listens at least and stops a few feet from him. For some reason this makes Bucky want to laugh. When had that punk ever listened? Where had that come from?
"Go. You've got to go." Bucky moans, feeling like his head is about to split in half. He can see the determination set into the other man's face and knows he's not listening. He takes a step forward and Bucky cringes back. He can't lose control and he's hanging on by a thread. "GO!"
"I'm not leaving, Bucky." Bucky does something he hasn't done he seventy years. He rolls his eyes. It hurts, making the pounding in his head even worse, but he likes it.
"You have to go." One breath for each word. It's the only way to get anything out through gritted teeth. "I can't hold them. Go!"
Steve's face crumples in despair and confusion. "Can't hold who?"
Bucky screams, a horse terrible sound that melts into a sob. Everything hurts like hell. He doesn't want to hurt anyone, but he's not sure he can control it. There is a part of him that just wants to die. He wants it to be over, but he can't verbalize any of it. He was trained to shut up. When he spoke up the pain got worse. He remembered that much. He was muzzled like a dog and there was no talking. Even though he wants to, he can't. He takes a deep breath. Then another. "Steve, please."
Bucky has his head buried in his arms, curled into a ball like a pathetic dog. He doesn't think Steve is going to listen to him, and he just doesn't care anymore. He just wants to stop fighting.
"I'll be back, Buck." Steve's voice is warm, like a summer wind, and breaths life through his tired body. "Just hang on."
Bucky hears his footsteps leave in the direction of his fallen comrades. The Asset is screaming for blood. A surprise attack. He'd never see it coming. It would be over quick. Bucky stamps down on the Asset, refusing to listen, even though it hurts like hell. He manages to crawl away, how far he's not sure, but the Soldier tells him its far enough. He finds a cold, dark corner in some disgusting alley and lets oblivion finally take him.