Lady sing the blues

The unedited, straight from Rough Trade version!

 

The factory was oddly silent for a room full of soldiers locked in cages, nothing but the odd hacking, wet sounding cough breaking the still. Peggy quietly dropped onto the top of one of the cages, feet light and her steps fleeting as she searched for a uniform that would make it likely she spoke the same language as the man wearing it. She reached into the cage and flicked the ear of the British soldier beneath her. His hand shot up and caught her wrist with unusual speed but after barely a second of holding it he let go and looked up with a grin before jaunty offering her his hand for a gentlemanly shake.

“Agent Carter, always a delight.” He said quietly,

“Major Falsworth! I thought you were dead so it is indeed a delight.” Peggy glanced backwards as there was a heavy thump from behind her as a large body launched itself from the ceiling. She rolled her eyes heavenward and hissed, “Steven, that is not discreet.”

“Sorry, Peggy, I’ve got a key though,” Steve said from his position onto of an unconscious Hydra guard, Brooklyn accent thick as he spoke a little loudly for the middle of an enemy stronghold. 

“Fantastic, why don’t you very quietly give it to the Major here and then even more quietly get that body out of sight before his friends come looking for him,” Peggy whispered, eyes shut in frustration as she contemplated all the things she had ever done wrong enough to have the prettiest man she had ever met be quite so inept at undercover work.

“Not quite what you would call subtle is he,” Falsworth sighed as he unlocked the cage and slipped out. Locking it and handing the key to one of the other men, “Wait for the signal and then make hell.” He quickly clambered up to join Peggy and smiled at her softly.

“I’m fine, James, perfectly stable and I haven’t had an episode in over a year. And he’s not subtle but he is the perfect substitute for bringing some heavy artillery and being even less subtle.”

Peggy waved a hand in front of Falsworth’s face as she realised the man had stopped listening.

“Pegs, did he just lift that man into the ceiling with one hand?” He whispered slack-jawed, “Maybe, I got hit a little harder than I thought.” 

Peggy grinned affectionately as she waved for Steve to join them, “Like I said, heavy artillery.”

Steve dropped down for the beam he was running along and landed on the top of the cage in near silence.

“He’s here, I can smell him, taste him but I can’t feel him. Must be unconscious.” He whispered before turning to Falsworth. “You haven’t seen a brown-haired Guide, about this tall, accent like mine…” Falsworth began to shake his head until Peggy added,

“Sniper,” 

“Yes, James. Called himself that stupid nickname… Barcky? I’m sorry they took him to the labs over a week ago. I very much doubt he’s still alive…” he cut himself off seeming to catch on to the tension in Steve, before saying, “in a good state. I doubt Bucky is in a good state.”

Peggy wrapped her hand around Steve’s wrist and soothed him,

“Breathe, focus on keeping everything to your baseline. Don’t be drawn into searching for him. Focus on me. Steve. Breathe.” She stepped in front of him and placed her hands on either side of his face so she could make him look at her. She pushed every scrap of empathic strength she could draw together into the man in front of her, shoring up his shields in a way that only a Matriarch Sentinel could.

After a few moments too long Steve blinked and focused on her, “We don’t have time for this,” He muttered. Peggy just smiled at him sadly before leaning forward to press a kiss to his cheek, she let go of him and turned back to Falsworth.

“We are going to need a rather big distraction,” she said.

“Well, fortunately, we’ve been making bombs. Really big bombs, would be a shame if I didn’t let Sergeant Dugan down there set one or two off before we leave.” He paused as Steve lept off the cage soon quiet feet and prowled around the edge of the cage to come up behind one of the guards who had just come out of the hallway. He tilted his head before letting out an impressed hmm as Steve snapped the man’s neck with quiet efficiency. “Might need some help getting to said bombs though.”

“Right. Steve, you take Falsworth and … Dugan? To their bombs. I’ll go check out these labs and I’ll meet you outside after the first big boom. Remember hearing set to baseline and focus.” Peggy said firmly.

Falsworth tipped a bow to her before swinging himself off the top of the cage,

“Right boys, prison break. Dugan, Dernier, with me. Everyone else get people up and out as quietly as you can, please.” Falsworth ordered before jogging along the path of destruction that Steve was leaving as Dugan prodded him in the right direction and waited for Steve to clear a route.

Peggy sighed and pulled herself back up into the rafters to see if there was any way to get into the next section of the factory a little more discreetly.

She silently crowed as she found a loose panel in the wall and managed to keep it from creaking as she squeezed through the gap, the faint noise it made covered by the sound of fighting coming from the main part of the factory. Beneath her guards raced towards the noise as a man in a lab coat raced away from it.  She waited for the coast to be clear and dropped to the floor, quickly shutting the door behind her as she stepped into the lab that the scientist had abandoned.

She gasped and rocked back against the door for a moment as a wall of fear and the stench of illness hit her before she could rein herself in, she took an extra second of precious time to curse herself for forgetting that the man she was hoping to find was a Guide and then stepped up to the lab bench in the middle of the room.

She soothed a hand over the Guide’s fevered brow and when that drew no reaction beyond a muttered string of numbers and a garbled rank she bit her lip and began to unstrap the man carefully. She gently tugged him into a seated position and took hold of both of his hands,

“Barnes, I need you to come with me. We are going to have to run and you are going to have to endure for a little while longer. Barnes. James!… Bucky, Steve sent me and we have to go.”

“Steve? You’re not Steve. Steve’s shorter and less…” Bucky swayed as he curved a hand through the air before tipping forwards to land on the very parts that he had been attempting to describe.

“Well, you’re still right about one of those. And the other might be a bit of a shock. Also, he has this tendency to charge into trouble that you might not like.” She muttered trying to loop one of Bucky’s trembling arms around her shoulders so she could heave him to his feet.

“What, fighting? Nah… doesn’t sound like Steve at all.” Bucky slurred before fighting back a scream as his feet finally took his weight.

Peggy grimaced as she realised his feet were bare and bruised, “Right, let’s go. Come on soldier, no more napping on the job.”

She staggered under his weight for a second and found a better grip on his too thin waist. She half dragged him across the room and glanced out of the door just in time to see a lone guard running away from the loud crashing that could only be Steve destroying something very large and very vital to the building staying upright. She frowned at the man’s feet as he went past before swinging her arm out into the corridor and sending the man to the ground with a single round to the back of the head.

“Found you some boots, Barnes…”She looked at him and considered how hard it had been to get him upright in the first place before leaning him against the wall and patting his chest. “ You stay there I’ll get the boots.” She hurried into the corridor and stepped the guard of his boots and after a seconds contemplation she tugged his socks off too. She dressed Barnes with careful hands trying not to knock the deeper bruising on his feet too much and as the building shuddered in a way that spoke of clear structural damage she heaved the guard out of his jacket and threw it over Barnes’ shoulders making sure that it was trapped between them so it didn’t get lost.

She heaved the Guide upright and just as they reached what looked like an outside door she heard someone racing towards them. She pushed Bucky into the wall behind her and dropped her hips back to press into him to keep him upright as she raised her handgun.

“Steve…?” Bucky gasped as Peggy lowered her weapon, as she started to speak Steve grabbed them both and kicked the door open.

“Time to go…” He shouted as something exploded deep in the factory and the shockwave blasted them halfway across the courtyard.

– – –

“… And well, Colonel Philips, that was when we took advantage of the chaos that the explosion had caused and used the trucks that Private Jones had liberated to head back to base.” Peggy said firmly, shifting in her chair uncomfortably as one of the arms pressed into her cracked ribs.

“You seriously expect me to believe that you just accidentally waltzed out of Johann Schmidt’s main base of operations with over a hundred captured men, and a good number of trucks filled with munitions at the end of your surveillance mission?” The Colonel steepled his fingers and rested his chin on them while giving her a look that made it clear that he thought every word was utter bullshit.

“Yes, sir. I believe that you’ll find that Rogers is just as … talented as expected.” She paused for a moment to find the right words, “However, I’m concerned that Schmidt is attempting to recreate Erskine’s work. They were experimenting on the prisoners, those too weak to continue working were taken to Doctor Zola, at first I thought the lab was a little extensive for a munitions factory but after some consideration and talking to the men who were captured… Sir, I fear that he might be getting close to success.”

Philips flicked through her report before tapping his finger on the last page, not actually lowering his eyes to read it,

“I see you identified the location of several more potential labs and put in a recommendation that you should be allowed to form a team to investigate this issue.”

“Actually, sir, I requested that I be allowed to form a team to raid and destroy the labs. Rogers isn’t built for surveillance.” She replied with a polite smile.

“No can do, Rogers is heading home. He can spend some time being the Senator’s dancing monkey, no matter how masterfully you write your report you can’t disguise the fact that he blew a giant hole in the forest when he was meant to be going completely unnoticed. The last thing I need is some unbonded Sentinel going off half-cocked and ruining weeks of planning every time he finds something unsavoury happening.”

“Chester,” Peggy snapped, rising to her feet in anger, “you promised Erskine that you would do your best to put his work to good use and to keep it from being twisted and misused. Rogers is our best chance of ensuring that doesn’t happen.”

“Six missions, four fuck-ups, I have given Rogers his chances but those are the kind of statistics I can’t justify. He is impulsive, reckless and has little concern for the rules.” Philips replied calmly, barely reacting to the seething Sentinel leaning over his desk.

“We’re at war, men are dying in their thousands, it’s hardly the moment to hold the failures of first tries against one of the best weapons we have.” Peggy shouted, drawing herself back when she heard the private outside the tent shift and ask his companion if they should intervene, she took a steadying breath, “The only missions that had a positive outcome were the two he ran with me. Give me a team, a discretion to run missions as I see fit and I will make sure that you get the results we need. Schmidt’s little programme shut down and Hydra on the run by Christmas.” Peggy said passionately before sinking back down into her chair discreetly pressing her hand to her side as her ribs began to ache again. Philips frowned at her for a moment before sighing,

“When he goes haring off and wreaks a mission, getting half your team killed. It’s on you, you don’t get to pass the buck or make out that it was bad intel. You think he’s worth the risk, you are responsible for every breath he takes, every meal he eats, every bullet he uses and every single one of our boys he gets killed. Now get out of here before I remember how to say no to a pretty lady.”

Peggy sat for a moment looking at the colonel in shock until he raised his eyebrows at her. She pushed to her feet and took her leave with a quiet,

“Thank you.”

She stepped out into the camp and watched the bustle of early morning activities that was starting to spring into action. She took a moment to roll her neck before picking her way across the muddiest patch of pathway. She nodded to the handful of nurses that hurried past her on their way to bed after the night shift and ducked into the officers’ mess. 

The tent was busy but not full, conversations quiet enough to not be bothersome to her already strained senses. She joined the short queue at the counter, carefully angling herself facing just at the right angle to discourage the doctor in front of her from starting a conversation while not seeming rude. She looked across the tent blankly until she realised she was accidentally watching Steve attempting to convince Barnes to eat something. She frowned as the Guide nudged the plate in Steve’s direction and let her hearing focus in on them to hear him say,

“It’s fine Steve, I’m not that hungry anyway. Just eat it so it’s not a waste.”

“You can’t live off toast, Bucky. The doc said you needed to get some good food.” Steve replied shunting the plate back across the table.

“That ain’t food, it don’t matter whether you’re following the law or not. That,” Barnes prodded the plate back towards Steve, “ain’t going in my body.”

“Agent Carter?” Peggy forced herself not to flinch at the too loud cook and turned to look at him with a smile.

“I couldn’t get plain scrambled eggs, could I? Just with toast. Thank you.”

She moved down the counter and watched the cook slop rehydrated eggs into a pan with a thin scraping of butter, shutting down her sense of smell as the odd chemically odour reached her.

She took the plate with another smile and made her way across to the quietly squabbling pair. Or rather, she realised as she got closer, the very determined Steve who as being ignored by Barnes, who had dropped his head into his hands. She sat down next to Barnes and tugged one of her slices of toast out from under the pile of eggs. She chucked it onto Barnes abandoned breakfast before shoving the scrambled eggs in front of him and taking his plate as her own.

She took a bite of the egg, cheese and mystery meat mix that was attempting to masquerade as an omelette and frowned at it,

“Is this horse? I don’t blame you for not eating this, it’s very suspect. On the other hand, it is oddly pleasant.” She rambled gently, “certainly better than rehydrated egg, although I’m impressed that the cook used butter to cook them. I thought we were out.”

“He must like you, They’re saving it for the toast, at least they haven’t resorted to trying to poison us with margarine,” Steve said in a slightly happier tone as Barnes finally took a mouthful of the egg. “I never thought I would say it but I miss the porridge we had last month.”

Peggy looked at Steve in disgust as she ate a particularly chewy bit before conceding,

“I guess the weevils were a good source of protein, I just wish they could try to not make it into glue.” She took another few bites of her breakfast before pushing it across the table to Steve, snagging the toast as Steve practically inhaled her leftovers.

“Huh, so you’ll steal a lady’s food but draw the line at eating mine? Anyone would think I never showed you how to take care of a lady.” Barnes muttered quietly into the tabletop, voice hoarse and dry sounding.

Peggy laughed as the two men started to bicker over manners, letting herself enjoy the soft comfort that seeped from the Guide as he relaxed and as the conversation started to dissolve into insults she reached across the table and rested her hand on Steve’s forearm,

“Well, you completely failed your final test, but fortunately I managed to convince the Colonel that keeping a human tank around might be useful.”  Steve looked up at her sharply, his eyes cutting across to Barnes for a moment before returning to her.

“I… I’m real grateful Peggy but maybe… Buck’s gonna want to go home and maybe it would be better for me to take the Senator’s offer.”

“You turning down a fight, Steve? They really messed you up when they made you giant, huh.”

“You really want to fight your way around Europe with me? You didn’t even want to be here in the first place.” Steve replied softly,

Peggy felt Barnes stiffen beside her as his leg began to tremble against hers and as he sat there shaking beneath the table he looked up at Steve and let out a breathy laugh and lied,

“No, Steve, I just didn’t want to leave you to fend for yourself. Seeing as you managed to find a way to get out here, at last, there’s no reason to go home.” They all sat in silence until Steve said,

“Bucky…” Steve said softly letting the word trail off, “Well, in that case. What’s the plan, Peggy?”

Peggy looked at Barnes consideringly and took a moment to admire the way he seemed to have convinced Steve that was the truth of the matter and with a little shake of her head said,

“I’m putting together a team and I’m going to need some people with some specific skill sets.”

 

 

Bucky dropped from the tree he was perched in as a sharp tug on the bond he had with Steve let him know that the overgrown idiot had probably managed to get shot. He took a moment to shove his scope and sniper rifle into its kit bag and restrapped the weapon he had plundered from a Hydra goon’s body several bases back between the handles in easy reach.

The path left by the rest of the team wound along the curve of the hill to discreetly arrive at a breach in the base walls. Bucky reached the first turn in the path, pulled his kit bag to his chest and turned off the path to skid down the slope, crouching low to keep from tumbling. He took a slow breath, carefully reaching into his bond to orientate himself on Steve, before rising from his crouch to run down the last of the hill. He used the speed he had gathered to leap over the few bodies his team had left scattered across the first strip of courtyard, dropping his kit bag over his shoulder before jumping to catch the bottom rung of the ladder leading up to the roof of the main building.

Bucky dropped flat against the felt and waited a moment to see if anyone had spotted him. He crawled towards the sound of fighting before lifting his head high enough to look over the parapet, tugging the weapon he had taken from hydra from the bag handles and resting it on the wall as he shimmied far enough forwards to see what was going on.

A flash of red, white and blue shot across the yard before bouncing off the opposing wall with an oddly muted crash to strike an enemy soldier in the centre of his back, the round shield Steve had acquired slide off the man and settle on the ground heavily. Bucky stood up as Steve peeled himself off the floor and went to collect his shield, above him, Bucky sighed deeply as he spotted that he had pressed a hand against his ribs.

“Not worth fussing over,” Steve called up at him without turning around.

“I’ll fuss all I want, you were meant to stay in my sight line so I could shoot people who try to shoot you!” Bucky muttered knowing that Steve would be listening closely enough to hear, slinging his weapon back on top of his kit bag before twisting to hang off the roof, dropping down to the floor with ease.

“You were meant to be covering Peggy,” Steve replied, loping across the yard to press a kiss to the side of Bucky’s head, taking advantage of the closeness of his Guide to pull his body back from the brink of feral without having to work at it.

“If you had stayed where you were meant to be then I could have, but oddly enough you being out of sight makes me twitchy. How’m I meant to concentrate on Peggy and keep you all evened out when I can’t see the shit that’s gonna get you out of whack.” Bucky grumbled, wrapping one arm around Steve’s chest and pulling him in tight. He took a deep breath and let the feeling of pure safety that poured from every inch of Steve soothe away the last of the pain and frustration of knowing his Sentinel has been shot on his watch.

“I’m fine, not even a bullet to pull out. I’ll be healed by morning and I didn’t focus on the pain for more than a second.” Steve said pausing and switching to a wry tone to add, “I was too busy listening to my sniper abandon his post and crash down a hill like a herd of elephants.”

Bucky huffed into Steve’s armour covered chest, taking one last breath in before pulling away to finally look at the rest of their hodgepodge team.

He looked the team over carefully and took note that Dugan’s hands were shaking again, the tremor was small but the lost look in his eyes was too close to confusion to be ignored any longer. He squeezed Steve one last time before stepping away from him, letting his hand smooth across Steve’s back and curl over his hip before dropping down to rest at his own side. He worked his way towards the dozen men gathered in the courtyard until he was at Dugan’s side.

“Hey, Dum Dum, hold on to my best gal for me would ya. The ’Captain’ is going to insist on going to search for Peggy and I don’t want to have to beg Stark for a new barrel when Steve decides to protectively launch me into a wall again.” As he spoke Bucky carefully pushed calming feelings at the other man with enough force that in normal conditions the man would have sunk to the floor like a drunk.

Dugan’s eyes stopped their wild roaming and when he heaved the kit bag onto his shoulder his grip was firm. Bucky grinned at him and slapped him on the shoulder using the physical connection to prod at the edge of the emotional bandage to make sure it was tight enough to hold him together until he had time to sit down and stitch the man back together again.

He reached out into his bond and gently tugged Steve to make sure that it would seem like Steve was the one leading the way into the building Peggy had decided looked most likely to hold research labs. He went back to chatting lightly with Dugan until Steve’s hand fell on his shoulder, tugging him back to his side. Bucky lifted his weapon up, levelling it at a point just beyond Steve’s shoulder as he lifted the shield to breach the door.

The door gave way with a solid crunch, the reinforcements nowhere near strong enough to withstand the pressure that a super soldier Sentinel armed with a vibranium shield could bring to bear.

The corridor was empty, not even an echo of fighting or fleeing seeming to come from anywhere in the building. A glance into the first lab revealed exactly what Bucky had come to expect from Peggy’s ruthless efficiency, those who had refused to abandon their work lay before their workbenches and the soldiers who had been ordered to defend them on the ground at their feet.

Bucky took a step back so Steve could lean through the door to scan the room, he wrapped a hand around Steve’s wrist and murmured,

“Bring down your sense of smell, you don’t need a nose full of Peggy all het up.”

Steve hummed thoughtfully in response before stalking out of the room and down the corridor, shield firmly positioned over their centre mass as he twisted out of Bucky’s grip only to catch his hand and squeeze before holding on.

Ahead of them Peggy leaned out of a room and waved them towards her, the motion so fast she was hardly more than a flash of brunette waves and gloved hand.

They jogged towards her taking care to at least glance into every room before they completely passed it.

They ducked into the room that Peggy had leaned out of, Bucky steeling himself for whatever horror lurked within as soon as the roiling waves of annoyance hit him. Steve froze in the doorway, the hand that was holding Bucky’s gripping tight and pushing back so Bucky was trapped out of sight.

“Carter, I thought we had a plan for this,” Steve growled, Bucky attempted to peek over his shoulder but found himself twisted around to face the corridor as a burst of anger tinged concern wrapped around him like a blanket. Bucky raised his eyebrows and settled in, his back pressed against Steve’s in warm solidarity.

“Plans change, Rogers, besides if you hand changed your plan of attack a certain someone would still be half a mile away covering our retreat,” Peggy replied in an almost absent tone, Bucky resisted the urge to run a soothing hand down Steve’s arm as he realised that the anger had turned to fear.

“You will learn nothing from my research, Agent, my only specimen was destroyed. I ha e nothing to help you with your so-called super soldier program,” Bucky’s skin crawled and his blood turned to ice at the sound of the man whose voice had him waking drenched in sweat and with gore rising in his throat every night.

“Doctor Zola, I’m going to take great pleasure in getting to know you.” Steve snarled, “and your research? Is worthless you have wasted your time and all those men’s lives for nothing.” Bucky could feel every word like it was a bullet, even through the haze of numbness that had overwhelmed him.

“You have only one piece of information we want and that is the location of your leader. Where is the Red Skull?” Peggy asked, her voice coming from further into the room than it had before.

The silence held for a long time, Steve’s breaths slowing even as Bucky felt the muscles in his back tense and relax a dozen times. Peggy’s steps echoed around the room as she paced and Bucky tugged his weapon tighter to his chest as he forced himself to count to one hundred in every language he knew. His calming counting was shattered when Zola finally said,

“Why would I know the location of a high ranking officer? I’m just a scientist with a project that has failed.”

Bucky squeezed his eyes shut for a second and took a deep breath as the waves of fury pouring off Peggy reached a peak of aggression he had never felt before.

“You worked with Erskine. Erskine worked in Schmidt’s private manor. All those years as one of his foremost scientists and suddenly he tosses you aside? You can’t lie to me” Peggy’s voice was soft, her tone calm but the air was almost shimmering with the heat of her anger.

“Hydra have little time for failure,” Zola replied, delivering his lie with a soft hitch as though he had shrugged.

“Bucky, no,” Steve half shouted twisting to grab Bucky as he suddenly lurched away and ducked under Steve’s arm. He dodged the grab with a neat sidestep and crossed the space between the door and scientist in three strides. He lifted the muzzle of his stolen Hydra weapon to Zola’s forehead.

“Your ’specimen’ wasn’t destroyed, it escaped.” He took a few panting breaths hands steady even as his blood pounded in his ears, “you had told Schmidt that you had succeeded, he told you to meet him, to bring me to him. You lost me but your project was working. Schmidt will want your next attempt to be closer to him, so where were you going.” Bucky felt large hands wrap around his forearms as they were slowly pulled up and he was pulled backwards, weapon harmlessly pointing at the ceiling.

As Steve drew him back against his chest  Bucky smelt the sharp rankness of urine and finally heard the word that Zola had been repeating endlessly almost since the moment he had reached him.

“Innsbruck… Innsbruck,”

Peggy stepped between them, blocking Bucky’s view as Steve pulled him away tugging him out into the corridor. Bucky let Steve take all his weight as he was manoeuvred so they were leaning on the wall. Steve rubbed his hand in the centre of Bucky’s chest soothingly letting the contact bring them both down.

“Two sentinels in the room and I’m the one he’s terrified of.” Bucky gasped as he struggled to make his lungs draw in air properly, “what the hell did he do to me, even mundanes could pick up on the anger coming of Pegs but I’m such a monster he’s pissing himself before I even open my mouth.” Steve simply pressed a kiss to the top of Bucky’s head and relaxed his hold on him. Bucky stepped out of Steve’s arms, turning to face him so he could press a kiss to his lips.

“We’re taking Zola with us, Philips will want to have words.” Peggy muttered, leaning out of the doorway enough to rest her head on Steve’s shoulder.

“We should go on to Innsbruck before they realise he’s missing. Pinkerton and Clasworth could head back to base with Thomson to report in, they ought to be able to manage one Scientist between them.” Bucky countered naming two of the younger Privates and a corporal who had dislocated his shoulder in the assault.

“Not a terrible plan,” Peggy said leaning forward to press a kiss against Bucky’s lips softly, “You’re not a monster, you were just the direction he wasn’t prepared to be attacked from” she added stepping back into the room.

Steve leant down and kissed Bucky, tongue chasing the taste of Peggy’s lipstick away. Bucky gave himself over to the kiss for a moment before stepping out of Steve’s reach.

“Don’t get lost in that. You can lick the taste of Peggy off me all you like when we make camp.” He said softly drawing Steve away from the over-focus on taste he was seconds away from falling into.

“What… no, I just… oh look, Peggy’s ready to go. Let’s go.” Steve stuttered, Bucky shook his head with a grin and headed back towards the entrance before he could catch sight of Zola.

   

They reached the base camp, set deep in the foothills of the Alps, in record time. The team instantly splitting up and starting the myriad of tasks needed with the silent ease of men who had spent 18 months hunting monsters in the middle of a war. The trio he had suggested earlier collecting their gear and prisoner before setting off back toward Allied territory.

“Going to relax now he’s gone?” Peggy asked dropping down to sit beside the sheet he had laid down to keep the parts of his Johnson from getting lost as he stripped it. He carefully eased the hammer block pin out setting it down carefully before placing the buttstock across his knees.

“Not until this is over,” he murmured back, refusing to look up at Steve when he felt the other man staring at him. He picked up a cloth and began to wipe off the buttstock with care, making sure the tiny flecks of mud that had caked onto it from his palms were falling onto the floor and not the sheet.

“Well that shouldn’t take that long then,” Peggy replied as he reached for the next part he wanted to clean, she hopped to her feet easily and walked off quickly before he could correct her. 

“Stop fussing at me and let someone take a look at the giant hole in your side, punk,” Bucky grumbled as Steve started to head in his direction, knowing that the Sentinel would be able to hear him despite the burble of noise that came from near a dozen men chatting as they sorted their kit. He felt a wave of hurt and rolled his eyes before picking up the firing pin and carefully checking it over, “deal with that wound and then you can come for cuddles.” He conceded.

“It’s not cuddling,” Steve said when he passed by on his way to Jones.

“It so is cuddling.” Bucky huffed, turning the barrel of his rifle with a frown as he polished at a dink, “Stop focussing on the pain,” he added before sighing with relief when the dink turned out to be a greasy mark.

He tuned out his Sentinel with practised ease as he started to reassemble the Johnson with care. He wrapped it in the sheet and gently placed it back into the kit bag before letting himself be drawn over to the small fire they had decided was worth the risk to collect a bowl of slightly questionable beef stew. He grabbed another bowl, waved it in Steve’s direction and made for the tent that they had claimed, dropping down tiredly onto one of the bedrolls as soon as he was out of sight. He put both bowls down to one side and dropped backwards to lie down, shifting as a dip in the ground ended up in an awkward place. He squeezed his eyes shut against the nagging headache that had built during the march and focused on getting his back to finally relax.

A soft clatter had him blinking his eyes operand dropping his head to onside to look at the source of the noise, confusion hitting as Steve stacked the two bowls together.

“I figured you wouldn’t mind missing out on congealed stew,” Steve said apologetically.

“How long was I asleep?” Bucky replied.

“A few hours, it’s almost midnight.” Steve slumped down next to him and curled a hand around his shoulders, “Peggy took your watch, she’ll be in when Falsworth’s all set up.”

Bucky shifted closer, curling on his side so he could tuck his feet between Steve’s legs when his toes started to get cold.

“You should have woken me,”

“You needed the sleep, looking after two sentinels has got to be exhausting. Besides, did you think I didn’t notice you levelling Dugan out, you’re stretching yourself thin.” Steve muttered into his hair.

“Peggy hardly needs looking after, she’s perfectly capable of looking after herself. And I don’t know what else to do with Dugan, I can’t keep patching his psyche together and hoping it sticks this time. He needs a break, we all need a break.” Bucky replied, sliding a hand down Steve’s stomach and into his pants. He cupped him gently letting his fingers press gently and rub over silky soft, warm skin.

“We’ll get time to rest when this is over, one last base. Schmidt has to be at this one, Peggy figured out why she recognised the name. It’s Hydra’s command centre, Erskine worked there but command had dismissed it as an active base after we took him.” Steve sighed, arching into Bucky touch. Steve flicked his own pants open before reaching across to open Bucky’s and tug his pants and underwear down to mid thigh. He lifted his hand to lick his palm before rolling them over so he was kneeling over Bucky, hand wrapped firmly around his cock.

Bucky grinned up at him and muttered,

“I thought you said Peggy would be back soon?”

“I thought you said I could lick the taste of her off you tonight?” Steve replied distractedly before adding in a more serious tone, “She can watch if she wants but she knows you’re mine really.”

Bucky arched as Steve knocked his hand off and slid down to lick his cock. He lapped at Bucky’s cockhead a couple of times before moving down to suck his balls into his mouth one at a time, pressing his nose into the soft junction of thigh and groin. Bucky rolled his head back and desperately hoped that Steve wasn’t focusing too much on scent as the Sentinel took a deep breath and hummed in satisfaction.

Bucky bit down on his lip as a moan threaten to escape as Steve shifted to swallow him down whole, mouth sliding to the root of his cock in one warm slide as a handheld Bucky’s hip flat on the bedroll. He let his eyes flutter shut and lifted one arm to his mouth, biting down on his coat sleeve as Steve undulated his tongue, sucking on him firmly. Bucky shot his other hand down to brush through Steve’s hair as he drew back, teeth lightly running up the underside of his dick.

Steve pressed a kiss to his tip as his hand rolled Bucky’s ball, thumb massaging firmly into the soft skin under his cock. He slid back down as Bucky thrashed silently, hand gripping in Steve’s hair. Bucky rubbed the back of his head into the ground as he tried not to lose control so easily. He petted Steve head a little desperate as he began sucking again and bit down on his sleeve a little harder as his orgasm ripped through him. He felt a few tears wet his lash line as he squeezed his eyes shut, arms dropping to rest on the bedroll as Steve licked him clean. He let himself drift on the haze of contentment that was pouring from Steve.

He breathed deeply as Steve shifted, strong arms lifting and guiding him so he was exactly where Steve wanted. A kiss was pressed to his closed lips and a soft rule had him open his eyes to watch Steve push his uniform down to his knees, a soft curse escaping as his chest was exposed to the cold air.

Steve lay down in front of him and gently lifted Bucky cock and balls out of the way before sliding between his thighs, capturing Bucky’s lips in a kiss as he started thrusting. Bucky brought his hands up to curl around Steve’s ass as he pumped quickly, clearly close to coming. Steve pulled his lips away and nuzzled Bucky’s collar out of the way so he could press his nose to the base of his neck. He moaned into Bucky’s chest before biting down on his shoulder. Warmth spilled between Bucky’s thighs and he pressed a kiss to the top of Steve’s head, after a few moments he muttered,

“I could have sucked you off you know. You’re dealing with that.” His arms curling around Steve’s shoulders to keep the Sentinel close.

“Hmmm, but then you wouldn’t stink of me.” Steve grinned into Bucky’s chest as he groped with one hand for the top blanket and pulled it over them.

“Thank you, gentlemen, that is delightful.” Bucky flinched at the unexpected voice as Peggy finally arrived, announcing her presence in an only mockingly disgusted tone.

“Jeez, what were you sitting outside?” Bucky grumbled.

“Mine,” Steve growled into Bucky’s chest even as he reached out with one hand to pull Peggy into the mess of blankets.

“Only polite,” she replied, curling up against Steve’s side, “And, clearly he is yours, darling. But you’re both mine so that’s fine.” Bucky opened his eyes to watch Peggy lean up to kiss Steve firmly, her hand curling over Bucky’s as she tangled their fingers together.

Bucky shifted uncomfortably and sighed deeply before pulling his clothes back up and tucking his toes back between Steve’s legs. He shut his eyes and let the quiet hum of both his satisfied Sentinels soothe him back to sleep.

 

Innsbruck lay a few hundred miles east of their location, a few hundred gruelling miles of foothills and occasional sheer slopes that they had no choice but to climb up if they wanted to avoid adding an extra hundred or so miles into the journey.

The small town was eerily quiet and despite its distance from the front or where any active fighting had happened, it had clearly been raided. Doors to houses hung open and stores sat with rotting produce in the windows. More damning than that was the sickly sweet stench that wafted through broken windows and from deep, narrow alleys. No one spoke and not a soul suggested camping out in the town despite the draw of a night in an actual bed.

The two sentinels flanked their small team all their senses forced as low as possible, except for hearing, neither willing to smell the detail of when the massacre had occurred or see who lay down the dark alleys as they passed. Bucky walked at Steve’s side, hand lightly curled around Steve’s wrist to keep him from giving in to temptation and haring off to avenge the innocent dead.

High above the town was a fortress carved into the mountainside, occasional flickers of unearthly blue through the windows the only indication of habitation. Bucky squeezes Steve’s wrist and in a low voice asked,

“Any clue how many people are up there?”

“It’s hard to tell,” Steve replied distractedly, “there’s this squealing. I can’t even really describe it, it overwhelms everything else but it’s like nothing I’ve ever heard before.”

“I have,” Peggy said as she joined them. “When we were in Arrezo there was a similar noise but much quieter, I could only hear it when I was focusing.”

“This cuts through everything else and even if I try to ignore it or pull my hearing down it draws my attention,” Steve added, Bucky squeezed his wrist and reached out with his other hand to catch Peggy’s hand, checking in to ensure she really was as in control as she always seemed.

They walked the rest of the way out of the town in silence cutting between houses to crap into the forest that lay at the base of the mountain, a broken bridge in the distance marking the furthest boundary of the town.

Steve motioned for the team to drop down and be still, Bucky dropped to a crouch next to him. They waited for long enough that Bucky was tempted to ask why they were soaking through their pants on the forest floor but just as he was considering how to phrase it the sound of an engine roaring down the winding mountain road reached his ears and in the distance, he spied an expensive car.

“Fuck,” Peggy spat, everyone in the team looked at her in shock with the exception of Falsworth who simply dropped his pack to the ground and perched on it.

“Was that Schmidt?” Bucky asked when Steve shot to his feet and stormed deeper into the forest,

“Unfortunately,” Peggy replied tone sharp as she stared after Steve, after a moment she motioned for them to stay where they were and followed him.

“So now we must decide whether we risk sitting and waiting for him to come back, or if we storm the castle, so to speak, and get Hydra running scared for once,” Falsworth said after they had all waited for longer than they could afford for the Sentinels to return.

Bucky shrugged, more interested in trying to follow Steve’s motions through their bond to ensured wasn’t running off to do something spectacularly stupid.

“We should follow him, he’s found something interesting, or something he wants to beat to death,” Bucky said, hoping to his feet and hauling his pack on, “it can be hard to tell the difference with Steve.”

“Why am I not surprised,” one of the men muttered as they began to wind through the forest, Bucky just tossed a glare over one shoulder before frowning as he attempted to track purely through the psionic version of being told whether the direction was hot or cold.

Ground that had taken less than twenty minutes for a pissed off Sentinel running on more adrenaline than common sense to cover took the rest of the team an hour to work their way through. Only the odd broken branch or disturbed pine needles letting Bucky know he wasn’t leading them off in the wrong direction.

They arrived to find Steve staring. Into a stone channel that appeared to have been carved into the mountain, a thin trickle of water flowing down it.

“Seen Peggy?” Bucky asked when Steve ignored their arrival,

“She’s in there,” Steve replied dropping an arm over Bucky’s shoulders when he got close enough.

“Great, so are we setting up camp or are we going to climb up a sewage pipe and raid a Hydra base today?” Bucky prompted when Steve failed to give any instructions.

“Oh, Peggy said to settle in but not plan to stay. She wanted to make sure the pipe doesn’t narrow off too much before we started planning.” Steve muttered distractedly, dropping down to sniff the air coming out of the pipe.

“Well, you heard the Captain, time for lunch,” Bucky said twisting to face the rest of the men without dislodging Steve’s arm from around his neck. He reached up and brushed his fingers over the back of Steve’s neck as he realised he was starting to hyper-focus on keep track of Peggy.

He accepted the cold tin of beans that were pushed into his hand with a grimace and for every spoonful he forced himself to swallow he pushed another in Steve’s direction until the tin was empty.

“She’s heading back,” Steve said suddenly shaking his head to clear it. “Why can I taste beans?” He muttered in confusion as he moved away from Bucky and towards the pack of tins that were waiting to be opened.

Bucky watched him walk off in disbelief,

“How did you not starve to death without me watching your back?” He asked to the empty air beside him before moving to join the rest of the team in leaning against a tree and waiting for someone to come up with some kind of orders.

As Steve shovelled a second tin of beans down, with all the grace of a man who didn’t want to taste what he was eating, Peggy crawled out of the pipe. She sloshes water from her canteen over her hands before walking over to join Bucky in watching Steve eat.

“I’ve never been able to decide if it is stunning or horrifying that he manages to eat like that. I’ve never met a Sentinel who will eat with such a lack of discernment.” She whispered to Bucky as she picked through her pack to find one of the mostly tasteless emergency rations. He huffed a quiet laugh as he whispered back,

“He is actually more picky than he used to be. I mean he could burn water and still think it was an edible meal.”

Steve turned to frown at him, spoon hanging from his mouth as he watched them. As Peggy began to tell Bucky about the things she had seen Steve eat in the field Steve asked over and dropped down next to them. He passed the tin to Bucky dropping the spoon into it,

“You only ate half before, don’t pull a face at it just eat it.” Steve said as Bucky poked the beans Unenthusiastically, “so, I think we should wait for Schmidt to come back if we take out their central command without him in it then we run the risk of scattering them with no idea where they could be hiding.”

“Schmidt could be gone for days or even weeks but if we attack now we can weaken them right at their core. He’s left a lot of forces here and it sounded like a lot of the labs were active. This could be our chance to eliminate Hydra’s scientific core.” Peggy argued, Bucky shoved a spoonful of beans into his mouth to avoid being drawn into the discussion.

“Hydra is suspended off Schmidt’s leadership if we don’t wait then it could be years before we catch up with him.” Steve twisted so he could get a good look at Peggy, leaning on Bucky to get a good angle.

“We’ve caught up with him once we can do it again, Zola will know more places he hides.”

”At the moment Schmidt is content to hide under Hitler’s skirts, use the Nazis to disguise his atrocities but one wrong action will send them into hiding. Cut off one head and two more will grow. That’s what they keep telling us.” Bucky laid a soothing hand on the back of Steve’s neck as he started to get too loud.

“But cut out its heart and there will be nothing left to feed the monster. With his research destroyed, his army depleted and his fortress ransacked how exactly will he fund the growth of a new head?” Peggy replied firmly, “he has already broken with the Nazi party, for all that his actions align with theirs too often. We’ve fought him back to hiding here. We attack now and we force a confrontation.”

“And if you’re wrong?” Bucky asked, dropping the empty tin to rest beside him, unable to help joining in with Steve’s argument.

“Well if I am wrong then we hunt him down again and again until there is nowhere left in the world for him to hide.” Peggy said with an air of finality.

“Peggy,” Steve said, trailing off as he looked up at the fortress.

“Something’s changed.” Peggy finished as both Sentinels rose to their feet, staring at the fortress blindly.

“On your feet gentlemen” Bucky called as he watched the pair warily, the rest of the team quickly gathering their things and preparing to move out or start an offensive. “Steve?”

“It’s that noise, it’s louder and… evil, it sounds like. No, it feels like death, like it’s going to cause the death of everything.” Steve replied turning to face Bucky.

“ the death of everything not Hydra, I would imagine that’s what happened to the town,” Peggy added still watching the fortress.

“Then shouldn’t we be leaving and getting as far away from the evil, murder noise as possible,” Falsworth said as he came up beside Bucky, Bucky just nodded mutely as he fought off the creeping fear saturating his bond.

“The noise has faded again but some of the soldiers in the fortress have changed. What if the noise is Schmidt’s version of the vita rays device.” Peggy suddenly said, dropping her pack to pull out the armoured vest Stark had made her.

“I thought Erskine took the serum, don’t they need that?” Steve asked as the team took Peggy’s action as a sign to prepare to fight.

“We may have been guessing that it was the serum that failed to work properly, or perhaps they worked it out. I don’t know, but I do know that this was a trap.” Peggy replied, head snapping to one side eerily as she focused in on something she was hearing, Bucky shot forwards and grabbed her hands, squeezing tight as he reached out psionically to even out her senses. “They are leaving the fortress to defend the road, I don’t think they have a Sentinel.” She said distractedly as Bucky drew her back.

“Then they knew we were coming but don’t know we are here. The sight lines from the road will make it nearly impossible to sneak out,” Bucky heard Falsworth tell Steve.

“We need to come up behind them,” Steve said softly before raising his voice a little to call, “ we’re going to breach the fortress, leave any kit you don’t need to fight in the undergrowth and follow me.” Bucky checked that Peggy was back with them before grabbing the Hydra weapon he favoured for close combat and shoved some extra bullets for his colt into his jacket pocket before scrambling to catch up with Steve as he began to crawl through the pipe.

They made it almost all the way up the pipe before noises ahead had Steve freezing, waiting for the scientists milling about near the head of the pipe to move on before he risked forcing his shoulders out of the almost too narrow gap.

Bucky slithered out after him and quickly looked around to figure out how far up the fortress they had arrived. He peeked over a wall,

“Damn it, I should have brought the Johnson.” He muttered as he realised they were on a parapet running around the outside of the fortress and he had a perfect view of the men stood on the road. He turned around in time to see Steve haul Dugan out of the pipe in a motion that looked distinctly painful.

Jones came to stand beside him and glanced down at the soldiers,

“You could go back for your rifle,”

“Not worth it, by time I got back Steve would have made so much noise they wouldn’t be stood there, and even if they were still stood there I’d only get one or two before they figured out we were In the fortress.” Bucky replied, “especially if they are super soldiers.”

Steve abandoned the job of hauling people out of the pipe to Dugan and walked over to look over the wall,

“What’s the range on that?” He asked nudging the Hydra weapon with a finger,

“Not a clue, pretty far but it’s not exactly what you would call accurate. Great at blowing chunks out of something or someone across a room or down a corridor but 60 feet, aiming down the front of a building with a crosswind? I could hit them or I could just blast a chunk out of the road.” Bucky muttered

“Do your best, give us a 60 count to set up an ambush on the stairwell and then attract some attention.” Steve ordered, leaning forward to kiss Bucky lightly before motioning for the rest of the team to join him as he forced a window open and climbed in.

Bucky started counting as Peggy followed the last man through the window and when he reached 50 he leant over the wall and took careful aim, shifting to account for the wind and the slight pull the weapon seemed to have developed over the last few missions.

He hit 60 and let out a slow inhale as he squeezed the trigger and waited to see where the glob of blue energy struck when he realised it was pretty much on target he aimed again and took a few more shots without waiting to seen if the energy actually did any damage.

He saw a flicker of movement a few floors below and leant out a little further. A window opened and a soldier leaned out, letting out a rattle of bullets aimed up at Bucky. As the window opened Bucky fired and dropped back to crouch against the wall as the hail of. Ulcers rattled past him. A rattle of metal on stone followed by the thud of something heavy falling out of a window let him know he had hit his target. He glanced over the wall to check that there was no one left on the road before darting across the parapet and climbing through the window.

He followed the thrum of focus pouring off Steve until the sudden clank of Steve’s shield rattling on stone had him running to his location. Across on the opposite side of the floor, he heard Peggy shouting as someone made it nearly to the top of the staircase her team was defending.

They carved their way down through the fortress until they reached a floor that had been gutted, every wall removed to make one giant lab. A glowing blue cube hovered inches above the stand it was clearly meant to be resting in.

“Don’t get closer, it’s what’s making the noise,” Steve yelled as Bucky stepped closer to it to inspect it during a break in the fighting both sides seeming to take a moment to regroup before the next assault.

Bucky paused for a second before taking another step forward, the blue glow seeming to call him in like a siren song. Steve dashed across the room and grabbed his shoulder, tugging him back to the head of the stairs just as the next wave of super soldiers arrived.

“These are some ugly fuckers,” Bucky shouted over the fighting as the soldier he was fighting paused to wipe a hand over his face, a long stop of skin sloughing off to reveal what looked like bone. Bucky took the opportunity to make some space between them and bring his weapon up to blast a hole in his chest.

He managed to drop back out of the fight a little more and levels his weapon at the soldier fighting Steve, a deformed creature made mostly of grossly muscular arms hanging on a normal man’s body. He took the shot just as the soldier managed to grip the edges of Steve’s shield.

Bucky’s shot hit just as the shield and Steve were launched across the room like a discus. Across the room, Peggy threw the last soldier standing backwards into a spray of bullets from Dugan. But Bucky hardly noticed, as Steve struck the stand for the blue cube and kept moving.

The cube tumbled to the floor and as Steve hit the window a beam of blue light burst from the cube and followed him out of the window before the cube seemed to blink out of existence.

“Steve!” Bucky dropped his weapon, his chest strap keeping it close, and raced across the room as his Sentinel disappeared. He gripped the window frame and looked down the mountainside.

He crumpled to his knees as his bond to Steve stretched and snapped like two magnets being pulled apart. He looked at the empty expanse of mountain below him and managed to let out a single sob of horror before Peggy reached him.

 

Bucky blinked his eyes open to find himself lying in the back of a transport vehicle, the jolts and bangs coming from the undercarriage letting him know that they weren’t on a road. He pushed up slowly and reached out for Steve with his psionic gifts automatically, a habit almost as old as he was. A resistance pushed back at him like he was trying to force magnets together with the wrong poles facing in.

He froze and yanked his gifts back, backpedalling away from what he could only imagine was the afterlife. A warmth guided him home and He opened his eyes to find  Peggy crouched in front of him, swaying slightly with the motion of the truck.

“Breath, Barnes,” She murmured, worry in her eyes that spoke of too many repetitions of him waking but not rejoining the world.

“How long?” Bucky’s croaked, throat dry and lips cracked. Peggy watched him nervously as he pushed up to sit leaning against the legs of whoever was behind him.

“Ten days, I thought we’d lost you as well.” She eventually replied.

“Did you… I couldn’t see…” Bucky stopped and drank from the canteen that hung down over his shoulder to push back the tears, “was there anything left?”

Peggy gently gathered his hands in hers before delicately saying,

“We didn’t find his body, we think the cube destroyed it when it fell like the Hydra weapons destroy whatever they hit.” She paused to run her thumb under his eyes, brushing tears away before they could fall, “but we did find a set of accounts, Schmidt has been pouring money and resources into a facility in Rijeka…”

“I don’t care, everything we do, everything we throw at this isn’t enough. Steve was our best shot at defeating him and he’s gone.” Bucky interrupted, he looked Peggy in the eyes and waited for her to tell him he was wrong.

“We’re nearly back to London, command agree with you and ordered us home.” She said slowly as the truck bumped up onto a smoother surface.

Buck heaved himself up to sit on the bench, Jones shifting up wordlessly to make room before taking his canteen back. The last hour of their journey was travelled in silence, everyone using it as a chance to catch up on rest or to contemplate which platoon they would be reassigned to when the strike force was disbanded.

The truck slowed and a fist pounded on the side to let them know they could get out. As the rest of the team jumped out or, for those wounded in the fortress, were helped out. Peggy caught Bucky’s arm wordlessly asking him to give hem a moment alone,

“Stark will probably offer you a flight back to America when your discharge comes through but I hope you’ll consider staying, not to fight I couldn’t ask you to give up more than you have. You could do a great deal of good, This war is far from over but you have an eye for spotting weaknesses, you could help turn the tide.” She let him go when he pulled away but as he hopped out of the truck she added, “and I could never ask you to be for me what you were to him… but I had hoped, perhaps that… I have a flat in London, I care about you Barnes and I would worry, knowing that you will be alone.” As she stuttered through her proposal, her normal composure long gone, Bucky stared across the bombed-out London street at the bar Steve had taken a liking to on their last visit to command.

The windows boarded up and the stonework damaged, slats and broken tables in place of brickwork but still open. He shut his eyes and silently cursed Steve before saying,

“I don’t know what you’re planning, and I would love to refuse to be drawn in but I’ve been following crazy too long to change now. We had something, the three of us, I don’t know what it was but I’m not sure I could take losing that as well.” Bucky took Peggy’s silence as an opportunity to walk off, long strides carrying him quickly towards the building command had taken over.

He sat through the debriefing with a thousand-yard stare, barely listening to the reports happening around him until he heard Peggy round off her report with,

“I made an error in judgment Captain Rogers was insistent that we should retreat and wait for Schmidt’s return, I was the one to press for an assault. That’s what the record should read, I want that to be clear. Rogers was impulsive and a risk taker but only ever with his own life. I made the call.”

Bucky pushed out of his slump and dropped his hand onto the table with a thump, cutting off whatever else Peggy was about to say,

“It was a mutual decision, Steve had made up his mind the second you both heard the cube being activated. Steve is dead, there’s no point trying to keep a dead man’s file clear. We followed a lead and ended up waltzing into a trap, Hydra have been one step ahead the whole time. I wouldn’t be surprised if Zola was meant to be captured. If we had retreated we would have been hunted down or shot from above the second we left the cover of the forest. At least with an assault, we had the advantage of taking the high ground.” Bucky felt a glare boring into the side of his head from the Colonel leading the debriefing and added, “with respect sir, that is what happened”

The Colonel looked at him for a moment longer before looking back to Peggy,

“I believe you were heading somewhere before you were interrupted, Carter,”

“Yes, sir. Attempting an assault would have been an error, but I believe that waiting for Schmidt to return who have also have been an error.” Bucky ground his teeth resisted the urge to march out, “ we should have followed him, Schmidt has been given the opportunity to test his system for making super soldiers and is still working on his project in Croatia. Our assault may have interfered with the super soldier project but it has proven that his method can create soldiers that are capable of defeating our best man. Reports of ’Captain America’s’ defeat won’t take long to spread and in the meantime, Schmidt is out there working on his ’Valkyrie’ project.”

Bucky jumped as Stark leant forwards, seeming to appear from nowhere as he emerged from behind Dugan.

“We can hardly just make another Rogers if that’s what you’re proposing, it was risky enough attempting it with a dormant Sentinel, and I’m not sure a mundane would have the mental fortitude to withstand the process. Besides without Erskine or Steve, we are literally flying blind as to the composition of the serum. Get it wrong and we have an insane Sentinel inside Frankenstein’s monster’s body.” Stark threw half a dozen hasty sketches onto the table, each one depicting the soldiers they had fought in the fortress.

“Actually I have a different plan.” Peggy said, Bucky groaned and dropped his head onto the table in frustration and he wondered exactly why ever Sentinel he got close to seemed determined to have the stupidest ideas,  “we already have someone who could keep up with Steve. I might not be quite as fast or heal as quickly but there is a reason that matriarchs only ever come online in times of war.”

“And suddenly after trying to convince me that Hydra is a threat because of their intellect, you think I believe they won’t notice that Our resident superhuman has grown breasts and shrunk by a foot?” The Colonel growled, “we’re done here.” Bucky heard him push his chair back and stand to leave before Stark muttered,

“I can work with that.” And then in a more certain tone, “Philips, sit down and hear her out. The armour can be adapted, and It’s not like we’ve released a detailed file on Rogers height, weight and all that. All the footage and photos have him in full gear all you can see is his mouth and hands. Usually, he was alone so his height would be a guess. I can work with this.”  Bucky lifted his head enough to glare at Stark before Peggy started to speak again.

“Hydra is building up to a final offensive, Schmidt is pouring everything into one project, the super soldiers were a last-ditch attempt and if he thinks it failed to beat Steve he has no reason to try again. One last push could see hydra defeated, Schmidt dead and only the odd lab left to mop up while we wrap this Hitler business up.”

“The shield will have to be steel, I used all the vibranium on the original but I can add more silk to the suit design to pad a bit, which will add extra protection from bullets. Give our girl a haircut and it should work.” Stark said leaping to his feet and rushing out of the room.

“One last offensive against Hydra and then I pull you back to support the allied troops with the war effort. “ The Colonel conceded, “no extra resources you plan this based on what you have and if you need an extra person you will have to improvise.”

Bucky looked up at Peggy, reaching out psionically to see what she was feeling, Peggy, reached back and begged.

“Damn it, fine, I’m in but when this is over I’m going home.” He burst out, the rest of the room twitching around to look at him as the remarks seemed to come from nothing.

“Thank you, I’ll honour that. One last fight and then you can go home and I will only ever ask you to do what you want.” Peggy answered, ignoring everyone else in the room as she twined her psionic present around his, not bonding but holding tight.

– – –

“The risers swung around his neck, connectors cracked his dome,

Suspension lines were tied in knots around his skinny bones;

The canopy became his shroud; he hurtled to the ground.

And he ain’t gonna jump no more.” Bucky flinched awake as Falsworth marked the end in the verse with a hammer of a fist on the door before carrying on down the corridor,

“Gory, gory, what a hell of a way to die,

    Gory, gory, what a hell of a…”

“Charming,” Peggy muttered from where she had her head buried under the blankets, her back pressed firmly against Bucky’s as it had been every morning since they arrived back.

“Clearly he feels positive about today’s jump,” Bucky grumbled, forcing himself out of bed so he could stretch out sore muscles from two days of none stop jump training and get dressed before the Major found it necessary to repeat his wake up call. “Besides today’s the day, even if we make the jump we aren’t all going to make it back from this one.”

Peggy rolled out of bed and quickly pulled on her uniform, brushing her short hair flat and pinning it out of the way. She skipped her customary makeup and stood to press a kiss to  Bucky’s cheek as he shifted to stretch the opposite side.

“No one dies today,” she said firmly, “we have to believe that, else we risk convincing ourselves we are doomed. I’ll meet you at the airfield.” Bucky stood and rolled his neck as he watched her go.

He dressed quickly grateful that his uniform had been close enough to a paratrooper’s that he avoided having to switch for the mission. He paused halfway out of the room and walked back to pluck a photo off the table. He stroked a finger over Steve’s face.

“He’s probably right, there’s going to be blood on the risers before today is done. Two days and a hell of a lot of crossed fingers ain’t going to see us all down safely.” Bucky whispered to Steve before he tucked the photo into an inside pocket.

He hurried down the stairs, managing to arrive before the rest of the men. He shared a long look with Falsworth, the other man just shook his head and help out a brown paper parcel.

“We’ll eat on the go, I want to try and get Jones to land in a position that isn’t going to break his back.” The clatter of booted feet marked the arrival of the team. Falsworth plastered on a fake grin and threw breakfast at each of them before herding them out onto the practice ground.

Bucky picked at the bland sandwich until he had managed to force enough down that no one was going to start fussing before foisting it off on the first person to walk by.

In the distance, Jones finally managed to land gently in the sand just in time for a plane to roll down the runway. It rolled to a halt as Bucky gathered the team, getting them on the plane and into their parachutes so Falsworth could follow behind him double checking every strap and issuing reminders.

As Bucky sorted his own ’chute Peggy climbed through the hatch and he forgot how to breathe for a moment.

“Stark did a good job, right?” Peggy said, breaking the illusion that Steve was stood there. Bucky nodded mutely as his brain finally caught up with his eyes and noticed the tailoring at the bust and waist, the way stripes took on a delicate curve in place of hard lines, how the shield managed to cover both her shoulders fully rather than letting them stick out a little as Steve’s had.

“Schmidt will never know.” He said, twisting around to face away quickly, “Falsworth, check this is right will ya.”

“Exactly as I taught you. Good to go.” Falsworth said after a moment of tugging and pulling. Bucky just nodded and sank down to sit on the floor, giving in to the ever-present urge to pay attention to nothing, he picked a point on the wall opposite and dedicated every inch of himself to watching it.

He fell sideways as the plane took off, body being righted as the men beside him straightened up. He focused back on the point.

Peggy stood in front of him, so he shut his eyes until she walked away, a haze of Sentinel worry curling around him until he tightened his control and tuned her out.

The plane banked to avoid something, pilots yelling to each other as the team huddled closer. Bucky let himself be tugged in close, relaxing his muscles as though he was asleep, ignoring the whispers of the men around him.

He dreamt of Steve, spinning gracefully like a top until he spun out of sight in a sky of electric blue. He fell, tumbled down and down until he woke gasping, Peggy’s hands on his shoulders, helmet at her side.

“Time to go,” Falsworth instructed as he took one last walkabout. Bucky raises his hand and slid a hand through Peggy’s hair, dragging short strands up wildly before smoothing them down.

“I can’t do this.” He whispered, so quiet he half suspected even Peggy wouldn’t hear him,

“You can, keep your risers clean, don’t tangle the lines and try to keep the silk inflated, “ she whispered back.

“Canopy,” he corrected in absence of anything else to say.

“See, you have got this,” Peggy soothed, “one last mission and then you can go home.”

Bucky smiled grimly, “whichever way this goes I’m going home. I can’t look at you and not see him.”

“Good thing you’re leading team two then. You only need to see me right now and then when I get to take this ridiculous outfit off.”

“Until something goes wrong and you need me. Not much point in being a Guide if I’m not being a guide when you need me.”Bucky said biting his lip in frustration at the desperate tone his voice had taken.

“Not just a Guide, a good soldier, an excellent Sargent and that is the man we need today. I can look after myself, Barnes, I’ve been doing it for years. Today I need Sargent Barnes to lead team two and make sure that no one is sneaking up behind us. Guide James gets to stay right here on this plane.” Peggy said firmly sliding an arm around his waist and heaving him to his feet.

Bucky felt Falsworth tug on his parachute to attach the line and before he could consider all the ways this could wrong he tumbled out of the plane.

He fell for a few long moments, panic beginning to set in as he counted the seconds, certain that the ’chute should have opened. Just as he started to scramble for the manual release the line caught and the canopy jerked him backwards violently. He glanced up, checking the risers, lines and connectors had all spread out and ran straight with no tangles before firmly taking hold of the two handles that would supposedly help him to avoid crashing to the ground miles from anyone else.

He hit the ground with more speed than he had expected and only just managed to follow the instructions Falsworth had spent two days yelling at him. He sat on the ground stunned until a branch cracked to one side of him and he scrambled to get the harness off and his weapon up.

“Good job, Sarge, you almost looked like you know what you were doing,” Falsworth called as he stepped out from behind a tree.

“Everyone else make it?” He said when they were close enough to talk.

“Carter landed closer to the target, everyone else is scattered between us exactly as planned. We’ll collect any stragglers as we go.”

A hundred feet further on they found Jones, hanging from a tree branch as he attempted to twist enough to release the catch on his harness.

“Let’s practise landing a few more times, let’s get some lovely bruises practising not breaking your neck. Fucking tree.” Jones bitched quietly until he spotted the two men staring up at him. He made one last twist and managed to snag the catch, dropping to the ground gracefully.

Falsworth just raises an eyebrow at the man before marching ahead to see if anyone else had managed to get suspended. Bucky patted Jones on the shoulder and muttered,

“Aim away from the trees is what he said.”

“Like you can actually steer a dome of fabric caught on a sea breeze,” Jones grumbled as they attempted to catch up.

They passed enough abandoned canopies that Bucky was beginning to feel lucky when they stumbled over one of the canopies, blood already leaking through the silk. Bucky resisted the urge to flick it back and look who it was, deciding he would rather not know the gory detail of what a man looked like after a failed jump.

They arrive at the meeting point to see Falsworth counting heads,

“Thomson won’t be joining us, Carter, you happy to be one short?” Falsworth said simply.

“Happy is the wrong word, but my team will be fine one down,” Peggy said motioning for her team to follow her as Falsworth gathered his into a quick huddle. Bucky glanced around at the men left in the clearing,

“Right, exactly as we planned. Head to the south of the base and make a breach point. Dugan, you got those charges ready invade we need a little extra force. Good” he said at the nod, “Alright gentlemen, let’s go.”

They crept through the predawn gloom until they reached the wall, Dugan taking the lead so he could set the charges before they arrived. A blast of light and a crash of stonework letting them know that Falsworth’s team had already made a hole. Dugan nodded to them and as they all covered their ears the wall in front of hem suffered the same fate.

Bucky led the charge down the hill, Hydra weapon letting out blasts of blue that sickened him to the core every time he pulled the trigger. An endless flood of soldiers seeming to pour from the base and in the middle of it all a streak of red, white and blue ran ahead of her team.

Peggy slammed through the partially closed doors leading to the heart of the base and slowed to a standstill as she realised there was no one in the corridor to oppose her. She waited for her team to catch up and as the last man shoved the doors shut she motioned for them to hang back, walking down the long corridor with the shield high. Every sense pushed as high as she dared and she tried to figure out where Schmidt was.

She stepped into a small office as she heard a small group of men racing towards her, when she heard one of her team shout she slipped back out and jogged up the corridor, kicking the doors at the far end open before bursting through, shield up and weapon levelled at the approximate position of Schmidt.

“Very impressive for a dead man, captain.” The red skull drawled in accented but perfect English. Peggy lowered the shield a little to get a better look at the man.

He stood with his back to her, a familiar blue glow outlining him as he manipulated something on the workbench before him.

“But then, you always were impressive Captain Carter, I was bemused to hear that Erskine had chosen another for his experiment.  Perhaps he feared that if he made another as superior as I, we would become a matched pair.” Schmidt abandoned his work and turned to face her, showing no concern over the weapon in her hand.

“Superior? Why because you’re a Sentinel?”

“No, because the tesseract changed me, it needed the serum to help it but it burned the weakness of humanity out of me. It made me see, I know what is beyond our world and if the world bends to one focus we could conquer it all.” Peggy fought the urge to back away as Schmidt spoke.

“Bends to one focus… so you mean to enslave the world to your insanity? Haven’t you seen what your stone does to those you use it on?” Peggy said before Schmidt yelled,

“They are weak, they lack focus. Chattel to be used in making our world a galactic force.” Schmidt advanced towards her slowly. Peggy held her ground, letting off two shots as she shouted back,

“You made monsters, you took young men and burned everything that made them human. You destroy everything that you touch, you can’t win. I won’t let you burn the world.”

She launched herself forwards as Schmidt knocked the bullets aside like flies, hand blurring at the speed.

She slammed into him and felt something crack under the shield as he was knocked back a few paces.

Schmidt grabbed the shield and as he crumpled it like paper Peggy yanked her hands away. He threw the remains at a wall before stalking towards her. Peggy dodged as he swung a punch at her and as he smashed a hole In the wall she slammed a knee into his groin.

She tried to duck under his arm, he grabbed her and flung her towards the wall. Her helmet cracked against the stone and her body went numb as she slid to sit beside the crumpled remains of her shield.

Schmidt descended on her and panic overtook her usual calm as she realised even Rogers would have been losing the fight. She scrambled to her feet, blindly grabbing the shield and throwing it before darting out of the way. She grabbed the lab stool and threw that before beginning to snatch anything on the desk and toss it as hard as she could.

Her hand landed on a glowing blue cube, smaller than the one they had found at the fortress and missing the odd effect that made it seem to contain a burning star and the hmm coming from it was muted somehow off-key to what she had heard before.

Schmidt froze when he saw what she was holding. Peggy glanced at it again, wondering what powered it and as Schmidt advanced again she threw it.

It fell short, glass casing shattering, blue glow escaping and crawling up Schmidt’s body. Peggy backed away until she was pressed against a window, blind to the fact she was silhouetting herself anyone in the courtyard.

Schmidt screamed and as the glow overwhelmed him he looked into her eyes and laughed,

“I am but one head.” The glow brightened and as Peggy watched Schmidt disappeared.

She stood in silence, body calming as she breathed and slowly she realised something was wrong. She stretched her senses out, pushing each to its limits before it hit her.

She spun to look out of the window and gasped in shock as she realised the bodies littering the courtyard were too few to be all the men she had seen.

Her knees went weak and she collapsed to kneel, the silence in the base deafening as she realised she was alone.

 

Peggy knelt in the silent lab for long enough that her feet went numb, slowly the shock wore off and she realised she could hear breathing. Broken, wet breathing ignored in her panic because of the lack of threat it represented.

She climbed to her feet, pressing a hand against the glass and staggered as she finally made it up. Her head throbbing and back aching as her rough introduction to the wall made itself known. She tugged the helmet off and dropped it to the ground, that last impact enough to lengthen the crack and have it falling in half to reveal its blood slick interior.

She staggered to the desk and fumbled to grab the rag she had seen. She lifted it to dab at the back of her head for a moment as she steadied herself. She pressed on the wound and yelped, yanking her hand away and slamming it into the desk to distract from the pain. As she did she hit a syringe resting at an odd angle with her forearm, the plunger depressing before she could pull away from it.

She tossed the syringe into the desk and waited for a second to see if it had any immediate effects. She rested against the desk and probed the back of her head with gentle fingertips. The wound was sore but didn’t seem to be bleeding anymore. With the injection seeming to have done nothing she braced herself and pushed off the desk.

She forced her body to obey her and jogged down the corridor towards the broken man she could hear. She spotted him and broke into a flat out run, she dropped to his side and gathered him into her lap. She did all that she could to ease his suffering and let herself project safety and promise of retribution as only a matriarch Sentinel could.

“It’s okay Pinkerton, I’ve got you. You’re going to be fine.” She whispered, leaning close to make sure he could hear her.

“Liar… I’m dead, ’m body just no caught up yet.” He gasped, Lancashire accent he usually hid breaking through.

“I promise, I’m going to take care of you. I’m going to be right here.” She soothed, running her fingers over his face to catch the sweat-drenched hair.

“No. You have to catch up.” He muttered, head lolling as his muscles ran out of strength.

“Catch up?” She asked,

“Ummm… they took ’em. There was a plane and another. They were waiting, wanted Barnes and the others from Arrezo. On plane. Gone now.” He whispered, voice fading out. Strength finally gone and awareness of where he was lost.

Peggy gently gathered him up as he cried out for his mother, suddenly seeming frightfully young to be at war for all that he was 19. She rocked him gently, using strength she couldn’t really spare to hold his weight as she hummed lullabies. She carried him with her as she followed the smell of engine grease to a hangar and as she shifted to open the door she realised he was gone. She placed him down and traced a cross over his heart.

She took a deep breath and muttered,

“Shake it off, Pegs.”

She glanced back into the hangar and realised that there was a large plane still idling. She crept over to it and listened for the sound of a crew. Hearing only a pilot she slid around the side, she paused and frowned at the three openings carved down the side of the plane.

She ducked into one and found herself face to face with a bomb that seemed oddly similar to the sketches Stark had littering his desk whenever he returned from Los Alamos.

She bit back the urge to curse as she climbed into the plane and realised there were six of the bombs.

“co to kurva?” The pilot yelled spotting her during one of his preflight checks.

Peggy yelled back in German bringing her colt up,

“Where did the other plane go?” The man frowned at her and replied in the same language.

“To Russia, to Madam.”

Peggy sighed in relief, her men were clever. Bold to a fault and certain to make a break for it when they landed. At least when they escaped at least they would be with allies.

“And you?” She asked,

“Many places. I only watch for problems, Doctor made a machine that flies itself.” The pilot had been creeping closer as he spoke and Peggy suddenly realised he was too close. She lurched to one side as he swung a wrench but he managed to clip he and the world faded away.

Peggy struggled back to consciousness to the thrumming of engines, she winced as she turned her head, vision greying until she straightened her neck.  She slowly eased her way up to sitting flat against the wall rather than slumping and realised she was leaning against the cockpit wall.

As pain flares down her legs and echoed in her head, she wondered how long she had been unconscious for her condition to ha e worsened so much. Pushing that to one side She slowly flexed her arms against her bonds and managed to catch the knot in her fingers.

Peggy bit her lip against the pain and slowly eased the knot undone. She silently climbed to her feet, trying to avoid moving too much, and glanced into the cockpit.

She realised they were almost over England as she spotted white cliffs. Behind her one of the bombs clattered in its restraints, automatically lowering and preparing to fall.

She crept over and looked at the locking mechanism, squinting against the blue glow escaping through the odd gap in the bomb’s casing. She realised the mechanism worked by hammering a pin out when they reached a certain place. Peggy slid a hand over her hair, nearly passing out when she touched the back of her head, and then hunted through the containers on her belt, certain that one must contain a hairpin.

She mouthed “thank you” as she finally found a pin and with shaking hands she slotted it in next to the pin already there. In a quick motion, she bent both sides before sneaking back to rest against the cockpit wall. She closed her eyes and waited, hoping desperately that the pin was strong enough to hold.

There was a dull clunk as the hammer hit, the bomb and mechanism rattled and groaned. Peggy waited, the pilot cursed and the pin held.

The pilot grumbled his way out of his seat, kicking her feet on his way to the bomb. Peggy let her eyes open a slit and when he leant over to look at the mechanism she launched to her feet, grabbed the wrench and brained the man with it.

She grabbed one of the struts running the length of the plane and held herself up as every single part of her informed her that it was displeased with the sudden motion.

Through her greying vision, she saw the pilot sway, stumble and tumble out of the hole in the plane.  She froze and looked at the city beneath them in shock for a moment before realising that she needed to take some kind of action to prevent the rest of the bombs dropping.

Peggy worked her way back to the cockpit half blind and fell rather than sat in the chair. She inspected the map taped to the dashboard and realised that the next bomb was due to be dropped on Ottawa before they dropped down to hit Washington.

She looked at the array of knobs and switches and closed her eyes for a moment cursing all the times she had ignored Stark when he offered to teach her to fly.

She firmly told herself to open her eyes when she was done cursing but a bolt of pain was what finally had them shooting open.

“Fuck, fuck…” she shouted as she saw an expanse of ocean quickly becoming coastline. Hours wasted in an unconscious slump she could not afford.

She looked at the switches once more and swore again when she realised they weren’t in German. She began to desperately hit every switch, twiddle every knob in the hopes that if the bombs fell here they would fall into the sea.

None of the switches seemed to do anything to the bombs although half a dozen alarms were buzzing at her. Each one causing lights to flash across her vision or the pain in her head to worsen.

In frustration she kicked out at the console, hitting the flight controls as she did. The plane lurched to one side and Peggy looked to the heavens in joy at her one piece of good luck. Then she realised she had no idea what exactly she had gained. 

The plane slowly corrected its course the device the pilot had talked about taking control to ensure that the destination was reached.

Peggy yanked the plane back off course, refusing to allow it to reach land. She held the steering to one side before aiming up to fly north along the coastline.

As she waited for a better idea to come to her she reached out psionically and felt for Bucky, wanting to know that Pinkerton was right and the team were alive. She felt blindly until she found him, unconscious or sleeping but alive. She looked back to the heavens and thought,

“Guess I fucked up, Steve, I should have sent him home. But he’s alive so I guess you don’t get to shout at me too much.”

She winced and pressed a hand to her chest as her heart began to burn with pain.

Ahead of her, a glacier appeared, she took a deep breath and lifted the radio. Part of her wondered why it had taken her so long as the other part of her tried to convince her to curl up and take a nap.

She fiddled with the channels until she found the right one. She depressed the button and said,

“This is Captain Carter of the SSR. The Red Skull is eliminated and project Valkyrie is about to be terminated. Team taken by hostile force. I’m going down with this plane, no rescue needed. Find my boys.”

“Carter? This is command, please repeat we couldn’t understand that.” Peggy looked at the radio in shock and tried to speak again. Her word slurring together and jumbling as they left her mouth.  She stopped and slowly said,

“…Skull eliminated. Valkyrie terminated. Rescue team. Not me.”

“Carter, clarify. Red skull is down, project V has been stopped.”

“Correct…” Peggy shut her eyes as the word seemed impossible to get out.

“Strike team taken captive, rescue needed?”

“Yeah” she mumbled, exhaustion sleeping through every muscle.

“Carter, can you tell us where you are?”

“Not me.” She muttered as the pain in her chest became a numbness and she realised that she couldn’t feel her feet. “I’m dead.” She said, dropping the radio and forcing the nose of the plane down as command shouted at her,

“Pick up the god damned radio, Carter. Answer me, Peggy? Peggy? Peg…” the nose of the plane sank into the snow and behind her, the bombs were rattled out of their cages, one rolled and struck the cockpit window.

The window broke and the bomb casing cracked.

Half frozen water poured through the window and as Peggy shut her eyes he eyelids were painted blue. The bomb detonation as it sank into the arctic sea.

 

Peggy felt warm. The light coming through her eyelids was soft pink and someone was holding her hand.

She hummed happily and let herself drift back off to sleep, certain that the afterlife could wait until she was good and ready to deal with it.

The next time she woke there was odd music playing and as she took a deep breath she heard a familiar voice laugh,

“Come on Peggy, you’ve had a good long nap but it’s time to get up now.”

She rolled her head into the pillow and grumbled,

“’m dead Steve, let me sleep until Bucky gets here”

The bed shifted as the person she suspected was Steve came to sit beside her, he gently lifted her off the pillow and tucked her against a broad shoulder. The scent of Steve flooding her nose. She forced her heavy eyelids open in time to watch him say,

“This isn’t heaven Peggy. You aren’t dead Pegs and it’s a long story but we lived. You and I beat the odds. We survived.”

She ignored the words and drank in the strange sight and feel of a Steve Rogers who was calm, happy and relaxed. She curled into his warmth and let herself relax into the protection he offered as she decided the rest of the world could wait. 

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