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ratherastory

In Hearts We Leave Behind 2/2

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Sep. 3rd, 2014 | 12:07 pm

Part 1

He doesn't know how to identify the look on Steve's face.

"Bucky…"

"заткнись!"

The Russian doesn't roll well off his tongue—it never has. No one ever took the time to teach him more than the rudiments of the language, because the rudiments were all that were ever required. He can hear his own accent—loud, brash, American—come through clearly whenever he speaks. His English is good while his Russian is flawed, but they both feel foreign to him now. He takes a deep breath and forces himself to switch back to English. It's not as difficult now as it once was, at least.

"Don't call me that!"

Steve is shaking his head. "I can't believe you're here." He visibly stops himself from saying the name again, though it's clear he wants to.

"I know it's meant to be my name," he starts, because suddenly he can't bear to see that expression on Steve's face. He doesn't know why he's trying to explain himself, just that he wants to. His stomach churns even as his heart begins another erratic tattoo in his chest, and he swallows in order not to vomit. "But it doesn't mean anything to me. I don't know who I'm supposed to be, not anymore."

He thinks Steve might be about to interrupt, so he lets the muzzle of the gun twitch ever so slightly, and feels a surge of satisfaction when Steve subsides again.

"That's why I'm here. So that you can give me some answers."

He pauses, waiting for Steve to say something, anything. To give him the key that will unlock all the mysteries of the universe. Instead, he's met with silence. There's nothing to do with silence except fill it, and he thinks that once, when he was another person, he might have been good at that.

"I read the KGB file," he blurts. "All the experiments, everything the Russians and Hydra did to me." He can feel the fingers of his left hand beginning to seize up again, but he can't afford to let his guard down. The moment that gun drops, his life is forfeit. "They called me the Winter Soldier, the file says I shaped history, and that's what Pierce used to tell me too. But all that tells me is that I'm a lab experiment gone wrong."

Steve's face twists with pain at that. He opens his mouth to speak, then closes it again, apparently thinking better of whatever it was he was about to say.

"I've done my homework the last couple of days. I learned about you, and about myself, too. They say we were friends, once. That exhibit at the Smithsonian, going on and on about 'the courageous Sergeant Barnes, the only Howling Commando to give his life.' But there's more, isn't there?"

Steve steps back, but his gaze is clear and steady. There's nothing in his expression that suggests he's trying to escape, or even to misdirect.

"Your work has been a gift to mankind. You've shaped the century. And I need you to do it one more time…"

He almost closes his eyes to shut out the intrusive thought, catches himself in time. "I can't… there are dreams, sometimes. More lately, but even when I was in stasis they were there. You're the only one who has answers to my questions. So here's the deal: you've got until sunup to tell me what all those files and newsreels and exhibits couldn't. You're my mission, Cap, and I have to see it through. Whether that means you live or die, well, that depends on if I get what I want."

"Your name is James Buchanan Barnes."

Even now, the voice rings clear as a bell in his mind, threatening to drown out all his other thoughts. He can't turn back now, though.

"Don't think what happened on the helicarrier's going to influence my decision, either. Maybe, deep down, some part of me remembered you that day, but that doesn't mean anything, not anymore. Even if we were brothers in arms, it won't change a damned thing."

"I won't fight you."

He wishes he had, though. It would have made things simpler. He looks at Steve, who hasn't moved since he took that one step back from him, emotions flickering across his face too quickly for Bucky to figure out what he's thinking. The gun feels heavy for the first time since he can remember, weighing him down. If he could feel pain in his left arm, he thinks it might feel like it was on fire. He eases his hand away slowly, keeping the gun very still in his right hand. If he plays this right, there's no reason for Steve to suspect anything.

"You're my friend."

"We're not friends anymore," he snaps, as though Steve just uttered the words aloud, and Steve flinches, ever so slightly. "Just two soldiers with unfinished business. The Bucky Barnes you know doesn't exist anymore. The man he became won't hesitate to pull the trigger, if he doesn't get what he came for."

Steve smiles a little sadly, and for a moment it's like the dream never ended. The Brooklyn skyline superimposes itself over the view behind Steve's shoulders, sunlight dappling over the floor.

"We could go to Coney Island tomorrow. What do you think?"

"To tell you the truth, I had other things in mind…"

This time he does close his eyes, blood roaring in his ears. It would take nothing for Steve to take him down now, and he almost wishes he would. When he opens them again, Steve has turned away, shoulders hunched, and he feels a strange impulse to go to him, to offer some kind of comfort to this man he doesn't even know.

"So… if you really want to know who you are and," Steve's voice threatens to break, but he composes himself quickly, "and what we truly meant to each other, I guess I better put on a pot of coffee. It's going to take a while to fill in all the blanks."

He feels his lips twist into a sneer as he makes a 'carry-on' motion with the muzzle of the gun and glances at the digital clock displaying 11:04. "I have all night, Cap. You've got seven hours."

~*~

He makes a show of leaning casually against the far wall, gun still trained on the target. In truth he's not sure his legs are still capable of holding him up.

"You're not looking good, Bucky."

He doesn't bother correcting the use of the name this time, just shakes his head quickly. The movement makes him dizzy. "You're one to talk."

That gets him a quick laugh. "Sorry, tact hasn't been one of my strong suits in a while. I just… it's been a hell of a long time. When's the last time you ate?"

The gun wavers. He feels foolish, now that he recognizes that clawing, gnawing sensation that's been dogging him for days. He never had to eat before, it was always taken care of. He doesn't even remember putting food in his mouth. Nourishment isn't something he's had to worry.

"Aw, Buck." Steve makes an abortive movement toward him, then turns back to the coffee pot into which he's been spooning grounds. "Would you believe me if I told you that you could put down the gun? I won't fight you. You might not remember, but you… you're my friend," he says, emphasising the word slightly, "and nothing's going to change that. You want to pick up that gun again at the end of the night, and I won't stop you. I'm hoping you'll choose not to. It's just… you look tired."

His eyes burn unexpectedly at that, and he blinks. With any luck, the moment of weakness will have gone unnoticed, but then, luck has never been on his side. He shrugs one-armed—his right shoulder—and holsters his pistol before sliding into a chair on the side of the table opposite to Steve.

"I'm going to get you something to eat, while I'm at it. Can't have you starving to death in my home. Mama would turn in her grave," Steve says ruefully.

Bucky laughs. "She would, at that," he agrees, and almost throws up again as the memory of a blond woman briefly fills the void in his mind. Her voice is clear in his head, urging him to eat more.

"Growing boys need to eat. You're both skin and bones, and I'll not have your mother accusing me of starving you, James Buchanan Barnes!"

"You remember her?"

There's too much hope on Steve's face for him to bear. He looks away, out the window. "Not really."

"Okay, then. Have some coffee. I think you'll like it—coffee comes in all sorts of flavours now, and there's more kinds of cream than I ever thought possible. I guess you wouldn't have paid that much attention to cream… or sugar, for that matter. Nowadays there's sugar in everything. Remember when we could barely afford it even for baking?" Steve stops. "Sorry, poor choice of words. But try it anyway," he pushes a white ceramic mug across the table to him.

The coffee smells wonderful, earthy and aromatic, and his eyes slip shut in spite of himself. He reaches for it with his right hand, tries to flex the fingers of his left hand and finds that he can't. It hurts, much to his surprise, as though non-existent muscles had been strained beyond the point of endurance. He can hear the scrape of metal against metal as he tries to straighten his arm surreptitiously under the table, and although Steve's face betrays little, it's obvious he's picked up on something. He doesn't say anything, though, just reaches into his icebox—refrigerator, Bucky quickly corrects himself—and pulls out a plastic container full of lunch meats. He grabs a loaf of bread from a box on the tiny counter, and places all of it on the table, along with a bread knife.

"It's funny, but even with all the bread that's just ready to buy out there, I missed Mama's homemade bread, the way she taught me to make it when we were kids. There's something about the smell, you know?" he says, not making eye contact, and all the while slicing the bread into even pieces. He hands over two slices and slides the butter dish across the table. "The meat is from a local butcher I found. Everything's ready-made now, but some people think we'd be better off with smaller, local businesses. It's all a lot more complicated than it used to be, being a responsible citizen."

He doesn't know what to say to that, but Steve doesn't appear to require an answer from him. He takes one of the slices of bread, fumbles a little as he attempts to butter it one-handed. He doesn't trust himself to even hold the bread in his left hand, not now when the slightest show of weakness could betray him. Steve clears his throat, makes a small gesture toward the bread with one hand.

"May I?"

He nods, and Steve butters the bread for him without another word. He lays some of the meat over it, accompanied by a slice of cheddar cheese, then hands it back.

The bread is so fresh that it feels like it might melt on his tongue, the meat and cheese an explosion of flavour in his mouth. Before he quite knows what he's doing he's devoured the whole thing in only a few bites. It lands hard in his stomach, and he has to expend an effort of will not to double over at the unaccustomed sensation, arms wrapped around his midsection.

"What would you like to know?" Steve asks, after what feels like an eternity of silence.

How can he get answers when he's not even sure of the questions?

"Everything."

Steve smiles into his coffee. "That's a lot to cover in just over six hours." He pauses, then lets out a quiet sigh. "Maybe this will be easier if you start. You tell me what you know, or the beginning of what you know, and then I can fill in where you've got things missing?"

It's the kind of interrogation techniques he's heard about, the kind he's been trained to guard against, but he has nothing left to lose and, he suspects, almost everything to gain. He takes a breath to steady himself, and the fingers of his left hand curl into a painful fist in his lap. It shouldn't hurt, and yet it does.

"There's this dream," he starts. "We're together, and you… you wanted to go to Coney Island. But we never went, did we?"

Steve swallows, and for a moment his eyes shine a little brighter before he looks up with a watery smile. "No, no we never did end up going."

~*~

It's impossible to recount a lifetime—two lifetimes—in a matter of hours, but Steve tries. It's hours of false starts, of long silences, and anecdotes with no context. By the end of it, Bucky feels as exhausted as Steve looks, the coffee is cold, and they're no closer to the truth.

"I—you don't remember any of it, though? Aside from the dreams?" Steve's voice sounds hoarse, strained.

He shrugs and looks through the window, where a thin line of pink is beginning to creep up over the horizon. "I think… I think maybe I did. I think, every time I tried, every time I said anything, they'd take it away again."

"Then wipe him, and start over."

Steve is the only thing that feels real, in all this. Outside the sun is starting to come up in earnest, and the dawn has illuminated Steve's face, making his eyes sparkle in spite of how tired he seems. He can't tear his gaze away from the clean lines of Steve's face, his jaw, his cheekbones, the small furrow he gets between his eyebrows when he's worried. He shouldn't know that about Steve, but it's one of a thousand details that he knows that make no sense without a context into which to put them.

"I think I stopped trying. But you… I knew you, on the bridge. I knew you, and when they tried to wipe me the last time, it didn't work. It didn't work."

He doesn't flinch or try to move away when Steve comes around the table, but he doesn't turn to face him. Steve drops to a crouch at his feet and lays a hand on his knee.

"Buck... whatever happened, whatever they did to you… we can figure it out. It'll take time, but we've got time. I know you think you don't, that you think you're on some kind of clock, here, but I swear it's not true."

He shakes his head. "How can I trust that?"

"Do you trust me?"

His mouth drops open, but there's a lump in his throat keeping him from speaking. His stomach is churning, bile burning in his throat and mouth, and his eyes are stinging. He blinks hard, turns toward Steve, and before he can think better of it he grabs his shirt with his good hand and pulls him close before kissing him.

Caught off-guard, Steve flails for balance, catches himself with one hand on the tiny table and nearly knocks them both over when the table rocks under the impact. He returns the kiss, though, and reaches up to clasp Bucky around his neck, hanging on like a drowning man clinging to a life raft. He lets go of the table and brings his other hand to grab Bucky's shoulder, and the jolt of pain it causes makes Bucky flinch and grunt.

Immediately Steve lets go, but he pulls back slowly. "I'm sorry," he stammers. "God, Bucky, I'm so sorry, I shouldn't… not like this. Are you okay?"

He lets out a harsh laugh. "Am I okay?"

Steve looks abashed. "Sorry, I didn't mean… Are you in pain?"

He pushes himself to his feet, metal hand knocking clumsily against the edge of the table. Sweat trickles down his spine, pooling at the small of his back, even though the air feels several degrees too cold. The room won't quite hold still, and for a moment he's sure he'll be sick. "It doesn't matter."

"It matters to me," Steve says, raising his face to look him earnestly in the eyes. "What can I do?"

"Nothing."

There's nothing anyone can do. If there were any mercy in the world, he'd be able to go back to the stasis chamber and let them wipe him for good. It would be perfect—except for the fact that he'd lose Steve all over again, and he can't accept that either. He can't kill Steve, can't leave him, can't bring himself to stay.

"Are you staying? Sam will be here soon…"

"The black man?" he evades the question with another question.

Steve nods. "He's my running partner—and my friend."

"You must run laps around him."

"Doesn't mean he can't be my running partner," Steve smiles. "I think you'll like him. He's a good man, and… I think he might be able to help, too, if you want."

He's already edging back toward the window. "I don't need help."

Steve gets to his feet. "No, of course not. But it's here if you want it. Bucky…" he chews on his lip, fear and hope warring over his face. It's obvious he wants to reach out but is holding himself back, afraid of spooking Bucky, as if he was a wild animal he was trying to coax indoors. "If you come back tonight, we can talk again? You could even use the door, if you wanted. I'll leave it unlocked."

He's halfway over the sill, but he pauses. His lips are still tingling from where he kissed Steve, and he imagines he can still remember what he tasted like, familiar and new all at once. He never planned to want to come back after this.

"I'd like that."

Steve smiles. "I'll see you later, Bucky."

END.

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Comments {14}

i'm on a website where people fuck fruit

(no subject)

from: geckoholic
date: Sep. 3rd, 2014 06:14 pm (UTC)
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Eeeeep this is wonderful, quiet and open-end and FEELINGS.;__; Loved this bit in my particular:

He has scissors and a cheap plastic razor. It requires looking at himself more intently in the mirror than he'd like, a closer scrutiny than is truly socially acceptable, given his current level of acquaintance with himself. It's not polite to stare at strangers, no matter the circumstances.

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ratherastory

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from: ratherastory
date: Sep. 3rd, 2014 11:33 pm (UTC)
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Thank you! Yes, the Bucky feels about in this. Bucky Fucking Barnes, is my only answer to that. :/

You picked out one of my personal favourite bits, too. I may have a thing for hair cutting/shaving. Ahem. ;)

I'm so pleased you liked it!

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Hell's Half Acre

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from: hells_half_acre
date: Sep. 3rd, 2014 08:01 pm (UTC)
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Yay! Lovely story! I will now let my imagination sweep me away with the possibilities of what comes next...

I really liked that you included Peggy, and kept her as awesome as she is... I loved the dynamic between her and Bucky.

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ratherastory

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from: ratherastory
date: Sep. 3rd, 2014 11:35 pm (UTC)
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*bounce*

Yeah, the open-ended ending was a deliberate choice. There are so many stories out there of How Steve And Bucky Work Things Out that I wanted to show the story of how Bucky figures out that he might actually need to work things out, if that makes any sense. ;)

I love Peggy with much love, and she insisted on being in this story. I think she added some much-needed warmth and depth to the story, too.

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salviag

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from: salviag
date: Sep. 3rd, 2014 11:55 pm (UTC)
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This is wonderful! I love Bucky's desperate attitude, and his skittishness--the way the story doesn't end with one night completely fixing all his problems. And Steve--you paint him so well in so few words. The focus is always on Bucky--but that doesn't mean Steve isn't real too. I think this just became one of my favorites.

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ratherastory

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from: ratherastory
date: Sep. 4th, 2014 12:02 am (UTC)
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Thank you very much! I couldn't bring myself to fix everything all in one night--there's too much to fix, but I like the idea of there being hope.

Poor Steve. I can only imagine how hard this whole episode must have been for him. He's the only thing that's real right now, as far as Bucky is concerned, but even that comes into doubt a few times. Oh, boys.

I'm so pleased you liked it!

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a rearranger of the proverbial bookshelf

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from: embroiderama
date: Sep. 4th, 2014 12:06 am (UTC)
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Aw man, I love this! I especially love how patient Steve was, just feeding Bucky and giving him time. Beautiful!

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ratherastory

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from: ratherastory
date: Sep. 4th, 2014 04:21 am (UTC)
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Thank you!

I think poor Steve is vibrating on the inside, but he knows that the slightest thing will spook Bucky and send him running, never to return. So he's doing the metaphorical equivalent of sitting on his hands and trying to get Bucky to open up, even a little bit--keep the lines of communication open.

I'm really glad you enjoyed it!

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Laura

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from: violateraindrop
date: Sep. 4th, 2014 03:43 pm (UTC)
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I really like how you kept everything open, not just the end, the entire story. There were a couple of moments where I thought Bucky would remember everything and then the next moment he's a little more Winter Soldier again. I also liked that you included the arm. Many stories either gloss it over, get a quick fix or nothing changed. The way you wrote it seems very realistic (as realistic as it could be I guess^^).

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ratherastory

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from: ratherastory
date: Sep. 4th, 2014 07:40 pm (UTC)
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Thank you very much! I've always found stories about identity fascinating: losing an identity, gaining a new one, walking the fine line between the old self and the new self. Bucky's story lends itself so well to exploring those themes. I'm so pleased you enjoyed it!

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becc_j

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from: becc_j
date: Sep. 5th, 2014 07:05 am (UTC)
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Wow, this is so great!! I was really curious what you would do with PM's prompt and I love how it's toward the end and where you went with it. Bucky changes so much through this but it's all very convincing and I really loved how you wrote his POV. The Peggy scene as well was amazing, and I loved how you included things like the Smithsonian exhibit and the fake funeral. <333

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Angela, Zolac no Miko

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from: zolac_no_miko
date: Sep. 8th, 2014 09:27 am (UTC)
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I'm too exhausted to be coherent but I wanted you to know I read it and liked it, it made an excellent bedtime story. <3

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Destina

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from: destina
date: Oct. 11th, 2014 02:02 am (UTC)
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This is really lovely.

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I breathe therefore I write

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from: sandymg
date: Feb. 9th, 2015 06:52 pm (UTC)
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Joining the party late. I saw the movie but dunno. It's like a light went off after seeing some artwork and now all I can do is gobble up Steve/Bucky stories. This was lovely. I loved the details and the obvious held back emotion of Steve.

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