Infinite Squee

Captain America MCU fic: Escape

I really appreciate all of your prompts, and I am finding quite a few of them inspiring ... and then I went and wrote something COMPLETELY DIFFERENT. Oops.

Title: Escape
Fandom: MCU
Pairing: Gen
Word Count: 2400
Warnings: violence, trauma
Summary: Missing scene for Captain America: The First Avenger -- freeing the prisoners was just the start of getting away.
Cross-posted: http://archiveofourown.org/works/1529705



Steve almost doesn't make the jump.

He's still learning to gauge his abilities. He's been doing USO tours and practicing fake punches when, he now realizes, he should have been working out and training for, well .... okay, jumping over lakes of fire is probably outside anyone's skill set. But still.

All this goes through his head in a frantic whirl as he backs up to get a run at it. Bucky's watching him from the far side, eyes fixed on him through a haze of heat and sparks. Bucky should be running, but he clearly plans to stand there until Steve either joins him or the whole catwalk buckles under the heat and they both die.

Steve jumps --

-- and falls and he can't breathe, can't see; there's molten heat and the air is full of fire and there's a breathless, weightless moment when he knows he judged it wrong, that he's going down and there's nothing he can do about it --

-- and a hand grabs his wrist. He may be a foot taller and a hundred pounds heavier than he once was, but Bucky's still catching him, it seems.

Bucky is hauled halfway over the railing by Steve's sudden weight. There's a scramble and some gasping and Steve tries to hang onto the railing rather than Bucky because he's suddenly afraid he'll hurt him -- he's never had to worry about that before, never had to think about his augmented hands being able to crush flesh and bone -- and then they're both on the catwalk, grinning at each other like when they were kids and just got away with something the adults didn't want them to do.

"Wow," Bucky says, heartfelt -- it's the most intense emotion that Steve's seen from him since that first flash of joy when Bucky saw and recognized him in Zola's torture chamber.

"C'mon," Steve says, catching Bucky's arm and pulling him along. The place is disintegrating around them, and they have to get out, and he's still not quite sure how to deal with being the strong one -- Bucky's the one who is supposed to pick him up, the one who stands between him and danger. He doesn't know why but it never really hit him like this -- all the changes, all the many ways he can't go back -- until seeing Bucky again, and finding himself in the strange, not entirely welcome position of looking down at the top of his friend's head.

They burst out into the night air, refreshing after the choking heat and smoke inside the facility. They're several floors up, though, and below them it's all fire and explosions and the rattle of gunfire. A set of rickety metal stairs is apparently their route to the ground.

"Can you?" Steve asks. He's still got Bucky's arm; he never let go.

"Yes," Bucky says between clenched teeth.

He starts to lag on the first flight of stairs, and on the second, the iron core of willpower that's been holding him together finally gives out. He crumples between one step and the next. Steve whips around with his new, faster reflexes to catch him.

"Buck?"

Bucky's not responding, but he's breathing, at least. Steve lifts him and it's shockingly easy, as easy as picking up a book or an art pad. (How is it possible, how can I be so much stronger than you now ...)

And, as much as he doesn't want to think about it this way, getting out is a lot easier now that Bucky's not slowing him down. Steve cradles Bucky in his arms as gently as possible -- Bucky's head lolling against his shoulder, matted hair brushing his cheek -- and, before he can come to his senses, he jumps. It's a three-story fall and his legs take the shock of the landing, or most of it; not quite enough, because Bucky moans against his shoulder.

"I'm sorry," Steve says. The towers of the factory are caving down behind him, and it's not just Bucky he's apologizing to, but all the prisoners he wasn't in time to save, and anyone else who's trapped, like Bucky, in all their own little hells throughout the facility. From the noisy chaos near the gates, a lot of the men he rescued are still kicking, but it can't possibly be all of them.

He never knew it was this hard being the strong one.

But he is, so he runs, leaping through falling sheet metal, dodging a tank. He takes a running start and leaps over a ten-foot fence, coming down in damp grass among wet, dark trees. Some of the escaped prisoners are already here, bruised and battered men with hollow eyes, but their hands are gentle as they take Bucky from him.

And so he runs back into the fire, to save the ones he still can.


#


Afterward he doesn't remember the rest of that night clearly. It's all a blur of smoke and fire and fighting; it's holding dead men's burned bodies and learning how to pull his punches when he hits people so he doesn't cave their faces in. The remnants of HYDRA have scattered into the trees, sniping from cover. Steve sees a man's brains blown out no more than three feet from him. There was nothing he could do. (He should have done something.) After awhile he just can't feel it anymore, can't feel anything except exhaustion and a bone-deep cold despite the fire licking his skin.

It's Bucky who actually makes him stop -- Bucky, deathly pale and swaying on his feet, who catches Steve's arms and holds him still. Steve could break his grip easily, but he doesn't. "Steve, Steve, Steven, there's nothing more you can do, sit down."

So he sits, and Bucky sits with him, slumping against each other in mutual exhaustion. Steve is distantly surprised to find the darkness has lifted, the world around him coming into focus in a cold gray dawn. The night is over. They made it. Somehow.

The transmitter didn't. It's fried. He holds it in his hand for a long time, staring at it. So much for rescue.

"There's a town down the hill," Bucky says, his voice dry and cracked. "I don't know how far -- five or six miles, I guess? They were quartering troops there, I think."

Yes. They need somewhere to go; they can't stay out here in the open, especially with so many wounded. That's something one has to think about as a leader of men: where to shelter them, what to feed them, how to take care of the ones who can't keep up. And there is no doubt that everyone keeps looking at Steve to tell them what to do. Captain is an honorary rank, but no one seems to know that. He used to be a symbol and apparently he still is, except now instead of a red, white and blue uniform on a propaganda poster, he's a superman who came out of the night and led them to freedom.

They look at him like a hero, even while his hands are still sticky with blood. He doesn't know how to deal with it. At least Bucky isn't looking at him that way, although Bucky keeps glancing at him with an expression edged with wonder, looking at the breadth of his shoulders, the thickness of his upper arms.

"I know," Steve says. "It was hard for me to get used to, too." He makes himself stand -- he's tired and everything hurts, so he can't imagine how much worse it must be for these men, underfed and overworked and tortured. He holds out a hand and Bucky takes it; his hand seems small in Steve's, now. "Let's go."


#


Low clouds threaten rain, but none has fallen yet. The air is cool and still. Behind them, the ruin bleeds a pall of smoke. From time to time there is a crash as some piece of precariously suspended architecture lets go, or the muffled thump of ordnance or God knows what exploding in a still-smoldering pocket of heat.

They salvage a handful of armored vehicles to carry the wounded. Bucky insists on walking, and Steve has a terrible feeling that Bucky's doing it because he doesn't want to be weak in front of him, but there's nothing he can do about it; trying to make Bucky ride with the rest of the injured feels like a betrayal. Instead Bucky walks at his shoulder and they make their slow, weary way down the muddy road to the town. There are a couple of skirmishes, and once they have to detour around a mined part of the road. It's after midday when they reach the little village lying small and silent in the shadow of the mountains.

Part of being a good leader, Steve knows instinctively, is being able to delegate. He turns the job of clearing the town over to the people who know what they're doing, and gets Bucky to help him unload the wounded into the largest structure in the village, a peak-roofed church with its doors standing open. This way at least he keeps Bucky out of the line of fire, because Bucky is stumbling and dead-eyed, in no shape to be doing anything but lying down. An occasional stutter of gunfire from somewhere in the mountain town's maze of narrow streets lets Steve know that not all the HYDRA troops have deserted the area.

There are no HYDRA prisoners. Not even one. Steve doesn't ask questions about that because he doesn't want to know the answers. It's probably for the best, he tells himself as he lays out moaning men between the pews. They are going to have to find food and supplies somehow; they are going to have a very long, hard walk back to the Allied side of the lines. Trying to manage prisoners would have been hellish.

But still. It's a cold hard pressure behind his eyes, another screw-twist in the tension headache that's been growing ever since last night.

He's not as tired as he should be, though. And the various burns, scrapes and flesh wounds that he suffered last night have nearly healed. He's desperately thirsty and so hungry that it's hard to think beyond it, but he swallows that too, as best he can, telling himself that others are worse off. He's a superman; he can take more than the others can. That's just the burden that his extra-wide shoulders have to carry now.

Three of the wounded died on the trip down. Several of the others probably will. Wordlessly Bucky helps him drag the bodies outside. It feels terribly disrespectful to just leave them lying like cordwood, but there's nothing else to be done. Bucky scavenges a curtain from somewhere to cover them.

There are worse decisions to come, because they all need food and heat, dry clothes and bedding, and there's only one way such things can be obtained at the moment. Steve nearly snaps when one of the men -- Dugan, he's fairly sure is the guy's name -- turns up with arms filled with food and blankets.

"This doesn't belong to us," Steve says. "These are people's homes. Their things."

"We have to live," Dugan retorts, a weary sadness in his eyes that strips the heat from Steve's anger. "These people are coming home to a ruined town either way. If they knew we were here, I don't think they'd begrudge us this."

He's probably right, which doesn't make it less wrong. And yet, Bucky's fingertips are blue and he keeps falling down and it's very obvious that he's not going to stop moving until Steve does. So Steve steers him into a house near the church, where a few other guys from the 107th have already made a fire and sacked out in front of it. No one is using the bedrooms, although it's entirely clear from the muddy floors and general disarray that HYDRA troops have taken advantage of the place already.

Steve finds blankets and some food: bread, cheese, tinned beans. There's a well behind the house where he is finally able to wash his hands, scrubbing and scrubbing with a rough towel from the house until he actually scrapes himself hard enough to draw blood. The scratches heal almost immediately; he can watch it happen. It's kind of fascinating. His hands are cold enough by now that he doesn't really feel anything. Or, he wonders, does the serum dull pain, too?

How many of the tiny human inconveniences can be taken away from a man before he isn't human anymore?

He fills a pitcher and brings it inside for Bucky, who's fallen asleep sitting up. Steve wakes him up and makes him eat, in small slow bites because he's not sure when they fed him last, and doesn't want to make him sick. There are bruises visible under the collar of his shirt and Steve has already glimpsed needle marks on the insides of his arms. Sometimes Bucky flinches when he seems to think Steve isn't looking.

"You should have someone take a look at your --" Steve hesitates, realizing he's not sure where Bucky is hurt, or how bad. "-- your everything."

"Not as bad as it looks," Bucky mutters, which is a blatant lie, but Steve's too tired to fight him on it. Instead he slings a blanket around both of them. Bucky leans into him like they'd sometimes do when they were kids. "Hey," Bucky says like it's the best discovery of all time, "you're warm."

He doesn't feel warm. He feels cold down to the core. He only notices that his hands are shaking when Bucky lays one of his own -- scraped, battered; his cuts haven't healed -- on top of Steve's.

Bucky asks, without meeting his eyes, "They ever put you in combat before?"

Steve shakes his head, manages to scrape together some words. "I volunteered for this, you know."

Bucky makes a sound that is almost a laugh, but not quite, and puts an arm around him, pulls Steve against his strangely smaller shoulder.

It seems seven shades of wrong for Bucky to be comforting him, when Bucky was the one who was captured, the one who was -- God -- tortured. It shouldn't be -- He wanted this, and he thinks he'll be able to find some glory in it, when his uniform no longer stinks of the burnt flesh of dead men and he can no longer feel the stickiness of blood on his hands, the wet crunch of bone and teeth disintegrating under his knuckles.

But for now, he leans on Bucky and Bucky leans on him, and Steve pulls the blanket more tightly around both of them, and eventually they sleep.

~

This entry is also posted at http://sholio.dreamwidth.org/949559.html with comment count unavailable comments.
Thank you! I swear I started out planning to write a sweet h/c story about Steve taking care of Bucky after he was tortured and then THIS HAPPENED.
I like Captain America in the MCU much more than in the comics (except for Marvel's Civil War).
And,
I like how your story illustrates how much changing Cap has to do to adjust to his new self.
Thank you! :) I like MCU-Cap a lot better too, though I don't dislike him in the comics, but the MCU version is just so sweet.
*squeaks* I have seen SO few good stories set doing that timeframe. Man. This is just so good. And I wish I had more coherent words for it. But, just - YES.

<3
Thank you! :D Heh, that's actually what prompted me to write this, because I went looking for h/c having to do with Bucky being tortured, and there wasn't anything, so I decided to write some. And then it took a left turn and veered off into this instead. But yeah, if you know of any other fics like that, I'd love to read them, because there really seems to be NOTHING.
Ooh, thank you very much! I've read the first one, but I hadn't seen the second one at all, and it was just what I wanted. :D