“Steve! Stevie, come on, damn it. Medic!” Bucky presses his hands down–one of them is metal, why is it metal?–on the gaping wound on Steve’s neck when a smaller, feminine pair pulls them away.
“Maybe you should sit this out, Barnes,” the woman says. She isn’t dressed like a nurse, but still he lets her take over Steve’s injury.
“Where the hell are the medics?” Bucky yells. There’s so much blood. But it’s slowing, much more quickly than it should be.
“There aren’t any medics coming, Sarge,” comes a man’s voice from behind him. Bucky doesn’t recognize it, doesn’t even turn to look even when the guy grips him firmly by the upper arm and pulls him forcibly backward away from his dying best friend. The hand grabbing him feels metal, too. Why is there so much metal? “This isn’t war. At least, not the one you think you’re in.”
“It’s not–” he blinks, disoriented. The woman is Natasha Romanoff. Or that’s what they call her now. The voice behind him belongs to Tony Stark.
He looks at Steve’s paling, bloody face. Remembers hitting it, over and over.
“You’re my mission.”
“Oh, god. Oh, fuck. It happened again. I did this, didn’t I?”
“Barnes, listen to me,” the Black Widow… Romanoff, says.
“Did I do this?” He leans forward toward Steve’s body; he’s still breathing. Bucky tries to keep breathing as well. “It happened again, I knew it would happen again.”
“Bucky,” Romanoff says sternly. She only uses the nickname when she knows he’s truly losing it. “Calm down. You didn’t do this.”
Bucky looks down at his cybernetic arm. “Did… did he do it?”
He means the Winter Soldier. That’s what they’re reinforcing in all of his therapy sessions. His name is James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes. He is not and was not the Winter Soldier. The Soldier was a weapon of HYDRA, possessing no free will.
Only that’s a lie. He remembers every shot, every crushed trachea. Every man, woman, and child. HYDRA may have had control of his mind, but that mind still belonged to Bucky and held on to every last breath he stole from someone.
“No, he didn’t,” the voice of the man holding him back tells him. Stark. Stark doesn’t believe the psychologist’s bullshit either, Bucky can tell from his spiteful tone and bruising grip.
“That guy did,” Romanoff tells him, pointing to a bloody and mangled mound lying about twenty feet away. Barton hands her a field kit with sutures and bandages. “One of Rumlow’s.”
“And then you , Terminator, did that to him,” Stark says, referring to the (dead?) agent.
“You saved Rogers, is what the grim robot is trying to say.”
Bucky’s getting glimpses of it now. The knife plunging into Steve’s neck. Rumlow’s man smirking at him as his best friend falls limply to the ground with an agonized wail.
The first crunch of Bucky’s cybernetic arm collapsing the man’s cheekbone. The agent still smiling as he spits out blood.
“I betcha never had the balls to tell him how you felt.”
“I guess it’s too late now.”
He died, Bucky thinks, after the third bash to the skull with Steve’s shield. He kept going, though, until he looked down at the dripping Vibranium disk in his hand and remembered who it belonged to. He remembered why he was so brutally angry, and then he didn’t know what decade he was in or who surrounded him, just that the man he loved was dying.
He knows he lost it, though, in those moments of beating the agent’s brains to a pulp. He lost who he was, who Steve keeps telling him he is.
“Bucky.” Romanoff is holding his face now, a move she should know is dangerous considering his current state. She’s always been fearless, though.
“You saved him. ”