A chorus of harsh curses permeated the humid air.
"You tried to kill Captain America, damn freak."
Steve's blue eyes widened in reserves dumbfounded horror as he stood in the doorway of the local coffee shop with his face crumpling into an abashed expression as he froze at the moment he watched an encirclement of teenagers— bullies trapping his best friend in a thong of aggressive protests and violent words. "Bucky," he gasped, at a loss of a shuttering breath; he instantly put down the plastic cups of coffee and sprung into action. He rushed in fervent steps towards the parking lot, his fingers curled into rigid fists and the skin under his knuckles turned into white. The beat of his heart invoked a painful throb and thoughts weaved into entangling knots of dread. "Leave him alone!" he called out, his raw and threatening voice unfamiliar to his ears.
He was the verge of attacking the group in front of him. Intently, his hardened gaze fixed on a red shirt with a cartoon print of Hulk-Doctor Bruce Banner that had a slash of black spray paint and foul words that marked a new ear of anti-heroism. Although these boys had the right to have freedom to speak their mind, it was unnecessary to become prejudiced against the Avengers-hatred and discrimination against good people that lived each day under the gun.
The evolution of new world order of political and economic antisemitism was coming into effect—ideological condemnations were slowing seeping through the cracks. The world was being swallowed into deceptive shadow of HYDRA.
He managed to cut of the prime head of the monstrous and inhumane terrorist—military organization—the Red Skull, from those ashes they rebuilt and devoured the fundamental truths of S.H.I.E.L.D.-using the power of technology to hold a gun on everyone. Armin Zola was just small piece of puzzle—-Steve knew that HYDRA would become reborn in a new image of freedom to gain world domination.
History would repeat itself.
Steve was born into the twentieth century -the bloodiest era of human history. Two world wars, the Holocaust, the rise of Communism and Fascism ,and the reign of totalitarian regimes that had turned children against their parents.
He saw the problem arise.
Everything that once was good had become compromised and faith became just a word to use against universal corruption. He knew that there had to become a transformation with putting reformation laws, structures, and a thread of humanity in everyday lives, the corrupted society wouldn't revert back into it's former state.
There had to be a unity of truth to fight against the deception. He had to take a stand for freedom and break the division between justice and injustice.
Resistance to defeat had emboldened in his mind and he wasn't about to allow his friend-brother and promise become a victim of judgement and face it alone.
"Leave him alone," yelled Steve loudly, almost commandingly, "...Sergeant James Barnes hasn't done anything wrong. Stand down."
"This damn HYDRA freak is gonna get what's coming to him..."
It was like a thunder bolt had struck the space between them, Steve stood tall and firm as his eyes became embers of molten fire. He saw the lack of emotion in their faces—the movement of generational pledges to ideologies was now born.
Before, Steve could defend Bucky, he watched the liquid hatred pour out of the cup, a frozen slushy drenched the former Soviet assassin's face and jacket.
He watched the cowards flee with snickering voices as Bucky stood in the middle of the lot, ashamed with his head down. Barnes was wounded and violated.
"Listen to me, Buck," the captain sounded broken as he stared into pale azure eyes hidden underneath tresses of messy and drenched hair. He tried to find ease in his low voice, hoping to convince his friend that he didn't deserve to have a slushy poured over his head by street punks who judged him for his appearance and the false statements in the newsprint.
"You didn't deserve that...Those jerks believe in fiction. Not in the facts." Steve did his best to reassure him, pulled out a napkin from his jacket's pocket, but Bucky wordlessly shook his head, refusing it.
"I ... I do deserve this, Steve." Bucky returned in a strained voice, waving off the feeling of being humiliated in public. He was a prime target for the media and his traumatic past shadowed him every time stepped out Steve's flat.
This was the price to have freedom and to live without his finger pulling on the trigger. Steve offered him a second chance, but he knew it wouldn't be easy to rebuild a new life.
Pressing the fullness of his lips into a grimace, Bucky used his metal hand to squeeze out the access liquid absorbed in his mussed strands.
He frowned, and stared down contemptuously at the plastic cup at his boots, resisting the urges to engage a vicious attack.
"I know what I've done..." He swallowed thickly, his glacial eyes trained on his metal knuckles, barely able to force himself to speak.
"And you being my friend doesn't change anything, punk. It only makes you the victim of my mistakes."
"I don't believe that, and neither should you." Steve protested adamantly. "Being labeled a pariah or a villain doesn't change who you are unless you let it."
Despite the measure of reassurance in his words, Steve could see that they barely registered with his sullen friend, but it wouldn't dissuade him from reaching out to him. Despite not being the best example to new ideals, Steve had seen Tony Stark face the same backlash and ridicule from the press and sometimes in public too for the death toll his weapons made in the his past. Since then the armored avenger spent everyday trying to make up for that.
The past could never be changed, Steve knew; but what they did now mattered most.
He placed a hand on Bucky's shoulder, forcing him to meet his stare. "I know the truth. So does Sam, Natasha and soon so will the entire world. The truth always comes out eventually, Bucky. The things you did-the things you were forced to do—you had no control over that. Its what you do now that's important and what defines you."
Bucky looked at him nonplussed. He felt his soul cry to a sudden halt. "Defines me?" he parroted. He wanted to swear lowly, but he knew Steve would find some reason to prevent those foul words from seeping out of his grimacing lips.
A cold sweat had threatened to pour out of him. He began to feel a slight fever arising in his veins. He moved a shaky hand down to his side, his fingers caressing the denim as he tried to feel for his knife. It was an automatic impulse that had been ingrained into his mind; he needed to feel the steel against his flesh.
"Let's face it, punk. I'm not worth saving." His whole body tensed and he shifted on high alert. He wasn't ready to feel the intermixes of emotion.
Instead, he pulled a step back and his pale blue eyes systematically scanned around him.
A perimeter check.
There were a lot of cars stopped at the traffic light, crowds on the sidewalks holding electronic devices-to him they appeared as small versions of subornation weapons to control the mind. He felt his skin burning under his dark sweater, the recurrence of guilt was dragging him back into the void of his past.
"No..." He gritted his teeth dangerously. "I—I gotta... get away..." Panic seized in his chest, and his breaths heaved out quicker and quicker.
He took in his surroundings with wide livid eyes; he almost looked shell shocked. One breath. Heartbeat thumping faster, wracking his ribs. Another breath. He was drowning in fear.
"They're coming for me..."
'Oh no...' Steve felt dread prickle at him as he watched Bucky's once calm yet passionate exterior begin to crumble in the wake of his anxiety.
For a moment, Steve felt like punching himself for not considering this outcome. The ghosts of Bucky's dark past still haunted him, Steve knew.
Decades of harsh training and torture hardened into a natural instinct that was as difficult to shrug off as moving a muscle or like scratching a bothersome itch. Remorse filled Steve then. Acclimating to a normal life-style wasn't something he expected to go smoothly for Bucky, but this day was at risk of becoming a disaster for his friend. He had to help him.
"Bucky. Listen to me. You're safe, there's no one out there coming for you." Steve spoke a placating manner, hands held out in a calming gesture.
The tense posture that his friend had taken and the rampant manner of which his eyes shifting across every general direction alerted Steve to how close he was to breaking. "Buck, focus, please. Look at me!"
"I—I can't..." Bucky breathed out frantic pitches of breath. His chest heaved and his ribs jerked against his firm muscles. His gaze downcast to his boots, nipping on his lip as the impulses to attack devoured him raw.
Stepping back, he felt the sourness of his gut slosh as tension crawled through his bones, while he deduced that danger was imminent. Steve was at high risk. "You need to get away from me." He growled, straining his voice and hearing the invasive sounds of traffic. It was torture to his ears and he couldn't tolerate the pain. He couldn't fight the urges to scream. He was powerless.
"Go Steve..." He screamed, digging his fingers into the mass of his lengthy hair, and pressing force into his skull. "Don't be stupid, Rogers... Get the hell out here!"
"I'm not going anywhere, Bucky!" Steve defied his warning. He had already left Bucky to his fate once before, he would never do it to him again. He couldn't let Bucky slip into this dark paranoia and seclusion; not after all the progress he'd made in getting his life back.
"Bucky!" Steve watched as his best friend fell back a few steps, his fingers threading his long locks tightly. Steve was at his side instantly, and reached out a hand to touch Bucky's shoulder. He needed to draw his thoughts and his gaze away from the horrors that tormented him.
"Stay with me, Buck, you can do this. Focus. There is no danger. That's just the programming talking."
Bucky glanced back at him with an affronted expression and clenched his teeth. "I told you to get away from me..." He growled, low and abrasive.
His metal hand grasped Steve's arm and applied vicious pressure into the bones. His rigid finger bruised the tender skin. And he met his livid eyes the super-soldier's stark blue ones.
"You've never listen to a damn word I say.." He seethed out in a heated breath, not releasing his hold. He was overheating. His pale skin glistened and lips curved into a grimace. He was going to engage his attack.
A blow to the captain's chest.
He didn't want Steve to demonstrate this measure of compassion.
He wanted to feel pain. He was immune to provoke his targets with deception. Fiery energy twitched in his muscles. The sharp clench of his jaw tightened as he blurred out Steve's passive face and violently rammed his fist into his friend's ribs.
A rueful smirk twisting over Bucky's lips as he listened to the sound of metal compromising bone. The Winter Soldier had returned. His pale blue eyes darkened into pools of malice.
"You try to see me as the war hero, Steve... "
He pounded both of his hands into the restricting muscle of Steve's torso, and forcefully slammed him into the wall. It was offensive defiance, smashing and growling with livid rage.
The blonde soldier toppled off balance, his body was wrecked as cries of pain emerged from his bloodied lips. Bucky was relentless of attack. His head was spinning, heart racing. Red. All he saw was flashes of intense red.
Bucky revealed the monster inside. The demon birthed on Zola's operating table. His face was empty and his eyes hollow. Steve unceremoniously gasped, knowing that his friend was becoming lost inside the butchered vessel of madness. He glowered at Steve.
There was no emotion.
Just pure and cold rage.
"They're right about me...Your people spoke the truth." He whipped down for a second, and drove his boot into Steve, delivering an effective roundhouse kick. The back of Steve's head bashed against the cement. "I'm the defective soldier who kills good men like you..."
Bucky released an aggressive snarl and ripped his sleeve, allowing his bionic arm to gleam as the red star reflected in Steve's watering eyes. "I'm winter's ghost."
Steve felt his world spinning around him while hot pain shot through his nerves.
The familiar ache of cybernetic metal ruthlessly striking him hurt immensely, yet the knowledge that it was Bucky falling back into his programming made it feel even worse.
He felt like he was back on that bridge again—back on the helicarrier—fighting an unstoppable force wearing his best friend's face. A force that had no conscience, no remorse; only a killer instinct to follow orders and eliminate his objective.
A chill spread through Steve's body as he recalled the Winter Soldier's last objective—what was driving him now. Steve's heart twisted in his chest once he beheld the dark savage look on Bucky's—The Winter Soldier's—face.
"Bucky..." Steve tried once more to reach out to his friend, locked away somewhere inside the tormented mind of the individual in front of him.
As Steve watched the Winter Soldier's cybernetic hand close into a fist, he knew his options had drastically been reduced. "...I was hoping it didn't come to this." Steve conceded, a dismal shadow hanging over him as he stood still at the epic center of what was about to be an explosion.
Once Winter Soldier made his next move, a cold fist punctuated by a snarl, Steve dodged the blow and responded sharply with a vicious uppercut, leveling Bucky's jaw and sending him falling back to the floor with a grunt of surprise.
Determination etched across his face, Steve rose to his feet and slowly advanced on his friend, his posture showing no sign of relenting from his defensive attack. "If I can't talk some sense into you...then I'll have to beat it back in."
Bucky panted out heaves of breath, his blue eyes darkened as his stare fell onto a shard of glass from a broken whiskey bottle. The instant he tasted blood run over his lips, he collected the piece and wildly slashed at Steve's chest, cutting through the fabric of his black shirt. He watched in an automaton-like trance as oozing red seeped out of Steve's damaged skin.
A soft gasp escaped Steve's lips, elicited from the sharp sudden sting running across right shoulder. The super-soldier recoiled a moment, holding the wound that he surmised was intended to tear open his throat.
A rush of air escaped him, the warm sensation of blood coating his fingers kicked in, but the pain was fleeting once his adrenaline set in. He had no time to stem the blood loss once Bucky—The Winter Soldier—had regained his feet and was now brandishing the broken piece of glass, stained with his blood, like a combat knife. The absence in Bucky's eyes was unsettling, but ultimately it was a spark of determination for Steve who mentally prepared himself for his friend's next attack.
Unlike the last two times they'd fought, Steve only now had himself to sorry about.
"за Родину (For the Motherland)," Winter Soldier snarled before resuming his vicious onslaught, thrusting the piece of glass towards Steve's face, "Для Hydra (For Hydra)!"
Steve acted sharply and dodged, the blade missing him by a breath, yet he still felt a chill move through his bones at the brush of wind across his cheek.
His reflexes unhampered, Steve seized Bucky's arm then elbowed his exposed side. Bucky wouldn't relinquish his hold of the shard, despite the winding blow.
Against his greater wish, Steve instinctively found himself forcing Bucky into a familiar maneuver where he was putting pressure on Bucky's arm, forcing him to submit or suffer a dislocated limb.
"Drop it, Buck," Steve demanded against his ear. Bucky panted and hissed, blue eyes brimming with defiance as their test of strength ensued.
Unlike before however, Bucky remained rooted in his standing position and used the environment to his advantage.
He forced himself forward towards the alley wall and used his momentum to kick off of it and flip behind Steve who felt his grip over Bucky's arm slip from his grasp.
Despite his surprising counter, Bucky lost grip of the shard and instead opted to seize Steve in a rear-choke hold. The same maneuver Steve used to overpower him on the helicarrier.
"Submit," Bucky released a throaty growl, his livid blue eyes settled on the super-soldier's shoulder as he began to drag his metal knuckles into Steve's collar bone, pressing into muscle, bruising it and applying enough pressure to shatter the bone.
He clenched his teeth, blood dripping from his lip and into his mouth. His whole body grew rigid through the savage impulses, his arm fastened tighter around Steve's throat and he cried as hot tears fell when he listened to the struggling noise of breath.
Steve felt like he was sinking underwater. His circulation cut off, his access to oxygen had also been ripped away from his lungs, and inflammation bloomed inside of his chest. He couldn't speak, he couldn't even breathe. The way up seemed impossible and out of reach. The startling sensation of feeling weightless became potent as the seconds ticked by and Bucky had not released pressure on his choke-hold.
Dark spots soon began to blot out the corners of Steve's vision. He bared his teeth, his blue eyes bloodshot and wide in an effort to combat the encroaching darkness of slumber ready to engulf him. It all seemed futile.
Paralysis. Lightheaded. Groggy. Helpless...
It was as a red sticky substance trickled down his nose, that Steve was drawn back towards his fading reality. His blood ran cold at the thought of what Bucky was about to do to him now...if he let him.
"N-N-Not g-gonna happen, Bucky." Steve hissed through his teeth. He could scarcely feel his limbs as the circulation had been cut off, and yet it seemed as if his body had acted on autopilot, and began a last desperate attempt to fight back.
Steve threw his weight backwards with a loud grunt; his body crushing Bucky's upon the ground. The world spun as the back of his head collided with something hard—Bucky's head he guessed.
Almost at once, Steve felt the grip around his neck slacken. It was the opening he needed to follow up with a timely elbow to Bucky's stomach which forced him to release the hold entirely.
A harsh gasp and rigorous coughing broke out as Steve felt oxygen and his vision being returned to him. He fell back clutching his throat and taking in deep breaths. His body ached and his senses still swam in dizziness, and yet he still somehow managed to find his way back to his feet.
A guttural snarl escaped Bucky's lips as he likewise climbed back onto his feet, slowly.
Steve's eyes widened as he saw the shard Bucky had just been wielding, lodged in the back of his shoulder where he fell on it. Blood permeated the fabric of his shirt, the sight of it forcing Steve's stomach to sink.
He watched as Bucky favored his wounded flesh arm as if it were a nuisance instead of an afflicted appendage.
With a grimace, he reached behind his shoulder with his cybernetic hand and ripped out the offending object. The glass shattered to pieces in his hand.
Methodically, Bucky's gaze turned back towards Steve, a look of murderous intent gleaming in his darkened pupils. Whatever reservations Steve had about this fight were swept away. Fight or die. He couldn't hold back. He wouldn't.
"All right. Like men, Bucky." Steve squared his jaw and raised his hands in a boxing-like fashion. His challenge direct and clear.
"Stop calling me that!" Bucky yelled in a savage rage, charging at Steve with his cybernetic fist aimed at his face. Steve reacted sharply and dodged the blow, following up with a fist to his sternum then a right hook across the face.
Fighting against the lingering aches left in his body and the cut healing on his shoulder, Steve still moved with remarkable speed. Bucky's healing factor was just as strong and had also begun to set in as he engaged his friend. His cybernetic hand caught Steve's left wrist then he used his other to level Steve's jaw.
Steve felt disoriented momentarily as stars exploded in his vision. Sensing his advantage, Bucky twisted Steve's wrist to force him low at his mercy.
Undeterred, Steve used his position to sweep Bucky's legs out from beneath him. Almost instantly, Bucky kipped back up to his feet to resume his attack. He then moved in for a shoulder tackle and crushed Steve against the wall. A guttural noise escaped Bucky's throat while a painful cry escaped Steve's.
Bucky's movements were quick and ruthless as he aimed another punch at Steve's face, looking to flatten his skull against the surface.
Steve evaded at the last moment, allowing Bucky's fist to become lodged in the size-able hole he created. "You need to listen to me!" Steve cried, tackling Bucky down to the floor, trapping him with an elbow against his neck.
"Your name is James Buchanan Barnes! Whatever instinct inside that is making you do this is wrong! You have to fight this, Bucky!" Steve entreated, his azure eyes searching the dark blue depths of Bucky's eyes for any sign of his friend.
"Get off!" Bucky roared, using his might to shove Steve off of him. Steve fell backwards against a pile of garbage bags from an overturned trash can while Bucky regained his feet.
Steve watched as Winter Soldier's metallic fingers once against balled into a fist.
"Its time for you to perish, solider."
He stalked towards Steve, a deadly malice in his eyes as he prepared to deliver the crushing blow. Steve waited for the right moment, then he raised the garbage can lid in time to connect with Bucky's fist.
As expected, his hand tore through the lid, but was now trapped at Steve's mercy. Steve was fierce now in his attack as he twisted the lid and Bucky into an arm-lock hold, before capitalizing with a hard knee to the stomach, and a right cross to Bucky's face, drawing blood from his mouth.
Steve didn't want to hurt Bucky. Each blow of pain he inflicted on his friend mirrored his own agony from within. As much as he wished otherwise, he knew this fight couldn't end the same way as it did before if he hoped to jog Bucky's memory. He already tried it and nearly wound-up with a slit throat.
Moving in to try and subdue him, Steve was caught by surprise when Bucky lashed out with a leaping spin kick that struck Steve in the side of the head. His balance thrown off, Steve fell to the ground, landing hard on his stomach with a gasp of pain.
White spots danced in front of his eyes and a ringing sensation blared in his ears that was almost as splitting as the headache he was beginning to catch. A warm crimson drip came down the side of his face where the sting of pain lingered.
He had a second to react before a hard boot threatened to squash his head. Steve rolled aside in time to evade it. Unblinking, Bucky attempted another vicious downward punch to Steve's skull.
Unarmed but for his strength and determination, Steve caught Bucky's cybernetic arm in a cross with his own. Gritting his teeth, Bucky increased his weight and force to break free of Steve's blocking maneuver.
Feeling his elbows tremble under the increased strength of Bucky's arm, Steve countered by hitting Bucky in the stomach with a well-aimed kick.
Bucky staggered back, giving Steve the opening to kip up to his feet. He then shoved Bucky back a step to provide distance for a jumping roundhouse kick. Bucky flew back against the alley wall then crashed onto the ground. The world swam in front of him, but Steve wouldn't relent from his attack.
Bucky shook his head, wincing in pain as he attempted to rise.
Glaring at Steve, he forced himself up and charged at him with cry of fury, swinging wildly like an animal that had broken free of its bonds.
He and Steve traded punches, each evading, blocking as well as connecting with neither able to get the upper-hand on each other. Steve ducked a lariat aimed for his neck and used Bucky's momentum to hit him hard with a knee to the stomach, taking the wind out of him.
Both men battered and bleeding as they stood a short distance apart from each other. Steve watched Bucky. The last time they'd fought, he had been nearly shot to death before almost drowning. Bucky—The Winter Soldier—was and perhaps always would be his toughest opponent in combat.
Everyone had their limits however, and Steve could now see Bucky's heavy intakes of air while standing a bit off balance.
"I still believe in you, Buck," Steve said shakily, swallowing the lump in his throat while cradling his aching ribs.
Bucky's gave no indication of hearing him as his head hung low with his long sweaty locks hanging like curtains in front of his face.
"Zola may have taken away your memories and your free-will...But he didn't take away your heart. You're a good man, Bucky...You need to believe in that."
Bucky glared back up at him with a bloodied nose; pure defiance and rage in his eyes. Undaunted and determined to end this scuffle, Steve at last struck him with a powerful uppercut to the chin, dropping Bucky hard on his back.
Seconds ticked by as Bucky remained motionless on the ground with Steve standing groggily, tears in his eyes.
"I'm sorry, Bucky..." he collapsed on his knees next to his unconscious friend, "but I promised I wouldn't leave you. I won't."
A promise. Bucky listened to the promise escaping from the depths of Steve's wounded soul. It found a way to reconnect him back to the warmth; away from the endless dread of winter—the horrors and phantoms of his past.
He furrowed his brow at first in confusion, trying to understand those words that were calling him back home. He was scared...lost and hesitant to speak. His blue eyes fell to the blood dripping over the metal knuckles of his hand.
"Steve..." He gasped with rawness in his voice. His swollen lips parted as he fought against the pain. His breath was heavy and his vision blurred with spirals of tears. "What have I done?"
He froze a moment as he watched the line of blood slope down Steve's bruised temple. He wanted to run away. Ashamed. He felt the conviction of his actions slice deep into his veins. He jerked a little as Steve placed a shaky hand over the metal plates of his shoulder.
With a curl of his lip and a wash of tears slacking over his battered features, he stared into his friend's clear and trusting blue eyes. He saw his face in the mirror like ocean of Steve's steady gaze. James Barnes.
"How can things be the same as they were in Brooklyn?" Bucky asked in a low breath, never breaking eye contact. "We're not the same boys in uniform...We're soldiers with different missions. You save lives and I take lives...We can't live as friends."
He squeezed his eyelids shut and the tears stung as he continued with a broken tone.
"I'm a ghost of the good man you once considered a brother." He peeled his eyes open and stared at Steve, tracing his finger along the gash over his jaw. "James Barnes...Bucky never came back. Only his damn reflection."
Steve sighed, a forlorn shadow coming over his battered features. Slowly he righted his position upon the ground so that he was now sitting down beside Bucky. Both their intent stares suddenly fixed into space, seeing past the buzzing of traffic outside the alley and into ways past, present and future.
"Neither of us is exactly the same person we were back in our original time, Buck," Steve confessed, a measure of remorse in his tone, "It would be ridiculous to think that things can so easily go back to the way they were then when so much has changed—when we have changed."
Steve's gaze fell to his bruised fists, caked with his friend's blood on them. "But it doesn't have to be like this. Us beating each other to a pulp like enemies, believing there is no hope for either of us to find a life again in this new era."
Steve slowly rose up to his feet, swaying slightly as a wave of dizziness rocked him and his bones and muscles screamed in protest.
He stood looking down at Bucky in front of him who continued to sit in silence. "I'm not asking you to be the Bucky I remembered back when you were teaching bullies a lesson in the school yard, nor the one that followed me into the jaws of death during the war."
Steve coaxed him into looking up and finally meeting his gaze, full of curiosity and confusion but also yearning for alleviation from the turmoil raging inside of him.
"I'm asking you to be the Bucky that you are now. Who isn't a weapon of Hydra, and who is free to make his own decisions that speaks to who he is in there."
In an ironic yet appreciable moment, Steve found himself mirroring Dr. Erskine by gesturing to Bucky's heart to enunciate his point, "A good man."
Steve had never felt more true of his words; nor did he believe in anything more than the man in front of him whom he now offered his hand to. "You just need to believe in that; you just need to want it...Do you, Bucky?"
Bucky averted his gaze from the hand. He released a dismal breath, his throat ached has he tried to speak.
"Steve," he murmured in a broken whisper, anger was fleeting out of him. The sluggish crawl of guilt dissolved in him.
"I never meant to hurt you..." he sadly croaked, his lips pressed into flat line of anguish, and he shook his head a little, reasoning with himself. He blinked and the absence of fear settled within his pale azure eyes.
Tears, hot and stinging, threatened to brim at the surface, as he slowly lifted his metal hand off the pavement. He knew there would unresolved issues. A rift that will keep them apart if they allowed the pain to grow between them—it was a searing wound and a relentless sickness that infiltrated their hearts from the moment they clashed fists on the street. He couldn't forgive himself for allowing his best friend to suffer those brutal blows and feel high measures of pain.
His chiseled features clenched into a sharp expanse of remorse. He set the sharp clench of his jaw down hard as his lips grew tight. At first, he didn't want to say anything, but as he looked into Steve's calm blue eyes he took that risk.
"I will never change who I am, Steve," he said under his breath, feeling tears drench his loose strands hooding his temples. "James Barnes is dead ... There is only the Winter Soldier."
His haunting stare leveled with Steve's passive gaze. "I can try to be good for you ... It might take a while, but I can try."
Steve had quietly listened to Bucky's disheartening words. As was often the case, they held the power to sting more than the physical wounds inflicted in their fights.
Winning the fight for Steve wasn't initiating the knock out blow, but bringing his friend back to his senses.
He felt an inkling of guilt and failure within himself that perhaps this situation would not be reparable as he had thought it was. That perhaps...he had failed again to save Bucky from the pit of despair that Hydra had thrown him into.
That perhaps...The Winter Soldier had indeed fully consumed every bit of what had remained of James Buchanan Barnes—the good soldier; the good friend...
That was until his concluding comment chased away the dread from within and filled him with renewed hope.
If what Bucky said were true, that James Barnes was in fact dead...then he would never even consider making an effort to be the good man Steve truly believed him to be.
Only James Barnes would humor him on what could be a hopeless endeavor; an endeavor Steve believed in enough to see through to its fruition—no matter the cost.
Staring into Bucky's eyes that had now brightened beyond the dark chasms he witnessed in their fight, Steve saw a glimmer of the man—he friend—he once he knew.
He would made this point to Bucky, but for now, Steve was content to let things be as they were. It was enough. It had to be.
"I could ask for nothing more, Bucky." Steve smiled at him, feeling a surge of pride and hope within himself, "And you know, I'm gonna be there every step of the way, right?" He asked, as they both slowly began to make their way out of the alley in slow staggering steps. A soft chuckle escaped Bucky's cracked lips, "I suppose not everything changes," he said ironically.
Bucky blinked the film tears out his shining eyes, and for a vague moment he felt everything. Pain, release and freedom. Images of two boys sprawled through his damaged mind in gossamer web.
Images of baseball mitts and wooden boats floating in a pond with Sarah Rogers standing behind them, her face gentle and loving. Everything good and pure that once had been altered into weaves of deception where restored.
His mind was stuck in the past for a few seconds, and he was hesitant to reemerge back into the present. Despite the reserves of pain, he managed to stand on solid ground again—brave and proud like a soldier returning home from endless war. Steve was his home and somehow, the blond haired punk-his best friend has always been his mission.
Promise me, James. That no matter who you boys face...You will always take care of my Steven.
You can count on me, Mrs. Rogers. I won't fail you.
For moment, the displaced soldier closed his eyes, holding onto distant memories like a lifeline, he didn't let go.
Bucky regarded him with deaden eyes again. He allowed himself to believe in Steve's words, and darkness faded as light broke through, maybe a little hope.
His pale azure eyes became clear as the storms of the past vanished, he no longer felt lost.
There was a small ache of relief in the moment he caught Steve's reflection in his gaze as the sunlight beamed around them. Weight of remorse, bitterness and grief no longer crushed against him. He could breathe again without tasting the cold rust scrape against his throat.
Glancing at his friend, Bucky smiled, and it wasn't because he forced his bruised lips to hold together into a tight crease, he did it for the reason that he felt alive and strong again. He wasn't a ghost story—he was real and the life story of James Barnes would have a good ending.
"I know one thing that has," Steve remarked with a faint mirth in his nonchalant tone,"...it used to be me that took the beatings in the alley."
He scoffed, yet did his utmost to mask the sharp sting in his ribs, if not out of pride than indignation. "Dream on, Rogers." He grunted out a hoarse, bitten laugh.
Steve smiled with an impish grin. "I'm just saying..."
Bucky responded simply by punching Steve's shoulder with his uninjured hand. Steve chuckled as he held his arm; both men, despite their battered and bloodied appearances, walked away together side—by—side as in the days of old.
Both feeling surprising less heavy than they ever felt in years and ready to follow each other on the dangerous roads that were ahead.
There was no going back into the past.
They knew no matter how far they fell, or how broken they would become when the smoke of battle cleared, they would always a chance to find hope in the other's gaze. That was unbreakable.
Steve held his lips into weak smile on his face, for today he discovered that measures of strength, no matter how great or small, can be found in the eyes of a friend.