August 01, 2017:

Cutscene. Jane and Bucky, in the time between.


NPCs: None.

Mentions: Jane Foster

Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

It's January 1950, five years to the day since Steve died, and when Bucky gets home he has to shake a light dusting of snow from his coat before he goes in the house. Mary and Judith come running to meet him at the door: Mary with the self-important confidence of six, Judith with the uncertain but enthusiastic clumsiness of four.

"Show your father what you made today," Helen prompts, looking in from the kitchen. Her dark eyes catch the look in Bucky's, the faraway gaze that remembers war and old grief on this day in particular, and she gives her husband the Look: be gentle.

His glance back is wry. Aren't I always?

"All right, all right," he says to the girls turning circles about his knees, "let a man get settled first." He strips off his gloves and leaves them on the mantel, beside his badges and decorations and the Medal of Honor he received after his honorable discharge papers went through.

A bitter pang goes through him, thinking about that. Steve pulled strings to push him out of the war, reasoning that a month of torturous experimentation was enough to qualify a man to be discharged, and once the scientists and doctors took samples of the inactive, presumed-failed serum in his blood, he was sent home.

Bucky didn't forgive Steve for that until he died in the ice of Antarctica.

Small hands pulling at his sleeves bring him back, and he affects a smile as his daughters lead him to a chair. Mary, older, is the spokesperson for both, as Judith drags over a book and dumps it in her father's lap. "It's scrapbooking," she informs him, as if he has never heard of the term and requires edification. "It's got all the pictures we found of Uncle Steve."

Bucky is silent, as he opens the book and looks through the pages with their weathered photographs: some from before Steve's procedure, and many from after.

"Thank you, girls," he finally says, once he trusts his voice. Putting the book aside, he gathers both into his lap, mantling over them with the ineffable love of a father for his children. They reach up to touch his face, maybe to forestall tears, or just wanting contact with the man they will always trust to be there, protecting and providing.

Their hands brush his skin. It sloughs away under their touch, and what lays underneath the peeled-back flesh is red, red, red.

A switch flips in his head. Pain overcomes him. The world goes black.

Through the agony, he feels his hands doing things he does not will them to do. He feels blood, he feels bone, and he hears high, high screams.

It only takes a few seconds for it to get quiet.

A long time passes, after. He body burns, blood boiling, and then it grows cold. His senses swim in and out of focus. During the moments they are a little sharper, he can feel he is laying on the floor, and yet he is warm. Warm and sticky-wet.

The sound of steps eventually reaches him. Blearily he looks up, and the familiar nightmare features of the Red Skull look down at him. Fleshless lips curl in a rictus grin, and Johann Schmidt kneels down with a mirror to let Bucky look himself in the face.

There is no face left to see. Only raw, red flesh, and the exposed white bone of a skull.

Behind him, Arnim Zola murmurs in his familiar soft voice, "You see, Herr Schmidt? The full activation of the serum was only a matter of time — "

Wakefulness comes in a confused jolt of sweat-soaked sheets and shattered three AM silence. James wakes Jane, the night before his trial is to end, screaming and clawing at his face.

It takes all her strength— her whole body weight, hung from his arm— to keep his metal hand away from his own eyes. It takes her half an hour more to talk him down to a shaking, but calm silence.

Around four in the morning, he finally admits, his voice raw, that he does not want to go back to sleep. Jane is tired after her testimony, tired and emotionally wrung, but she sits up with him anyway.

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