Title: the spaces in between
Fandom: Captain America (Movies)
Characters: Bucky Barnes/Nick Fury, Alexander Pierce, Peggy Carter
Tags: AU where Bucky got found by SHIELD in the 70s, Suddenly I have a lot of feelings about Nick Fury, Morse Code
The Winter Soldier is a ghost story.
Nick hears the rumours a few years into his training at SHIELD’s academy. He puts them out of his head; in his experience, it’s only ever been the living that cause harm.
There’s a metal tank in the middle of the room. Nick steps forward and looks inside: there’s something there in the shape of a man, face obscured by ice.
All of the scientists are dead. The base is set to self-destruct in less than an hour: not enough time to get the tank out.
He should radio in, get his orders from his CO, but he already knows what they will tell him: that he should leave the tank and search for the Red Room intel they came here for.
But whoever this person is, they don’t deserve to die like this. Nick steps forward and presses the button on the side of the tank. The pipes leading into the tank rattle loudly as they flood with liquid, followed by the rising hiss as hot and cold collide within the tank’s confines.
For a long minute, Nick stands and watches as steam begins to fog up the tank’s edge. The person inside becomes a silhouette, then a shadow, then is gone completely. There’s no sound from inside the tank: maybe the person didn't survive the defrosting process. Maybe they had never been alive to begin with. After five minutes more, Nick steps away from the tank and turns to leave.
He stops, and looks back at the window. There's a metal hand pressed up against the glass.
Before Nick has time to process what exactly that means, the tank's door screeches open. Steam pours forth, and from within it emerges a man, stumbling forward a few shaky steps before falling to his knees.
He has a metal arm.
Nick steps forward carefully, slowly, hand close to but not quite touching his gun. The man has slumped over on to his back. He's shaking all over, slick with whatever fluid had been preserving him within the tank. His long dark hair is plastered over his face. He's naked, and covered in scars; the seam where flesh meets metal is thick with them. There's a red star on his arm.
He coughs, wetly, blood-tinged fluid dripping from his mouth and nose. On his next bubbling inhale he starts to choke. Nick steps in close and gets to his knees, ignoring the wetness seeping through his combat gear as he leans in and carefully eases the Winter Soldier on to his side, skin cold even through the layer of Nick's gloves. Nick peels off his assault vest and eases it between the Winter Soldier's lolling head and the hard ground, and then, after a moment of hesitation, removes his jacket too, and covers the Winter Soldier's shaking body.
This time the Soldier flinches away from his touch.
"I'm not going to hurt you," Nick says as gently as he can. "Are you going to hurt me?"
The Soldier lifts his head. Through the dark strands of hair Nick glimpses clear blue eyes: human, intelligent; not a ghost at all. The Soldier blinks. His metal fingers click against the floor: tap, pause, then a shorter tap. He repeats it again.
It takes Nick a few seconds to figure it out: it's morse code. N for No.
Nick nods: message received. They need to get going; the base is going to blow soon, and the Winter Soldier doesn't look any closer to being able to walk. He should radio his team, contact SHIELD and let them know he's bringing the Winter Soldier in.
Before he can do any of that, though, the Winter Soldier raises his flesh hand and wipes the hair from his face, his mouth twisting as he tries to speak.
"Where," the Soldier tries, voice scraping out of his throat, but it's a voice Nick would know anywhere, a voice he's only heard in recordings of a man long dead. "Where's Steve?"
Nick looks down at the Winter Soldier's face: his sharp blue eyes, the line of his jaw, the shape of his lips, the cleft of his chin. The Winter Soldier is not just a ghost story, and the Winter Soldier is not just a man. No; the Winter Soldier is Bucky Barnes.
“Congratulations, Agent Fury,” Director Carter says. “You’ve earned yourself a new assignment.”
Fury waits. A thin trickle of sweat runs down his back, but he keeps his nerves carefully hidden from his face. Just a meeting with the head of SHIELD, no big deal.
“The Winter Soldier has been debriefed. Our scientists have confirmed that his memories of his past life were eradicated by the Red Room. He’s willing to work for us to take them down, however,” she clears her throat, and looks Nick directly in the eye, “he agreed on one condition: he works with you, and you alone.”
Carter gives him a long evaluating gaze. “Whatever you did to earn the Winter Soldier’s trust, I commend you for it. We’ve gained a very powerful ally, Agent Fury, and your contribution will not go unrewarded. Is this acceptable?”
“Yes, Director,” Nick responds, pulse racing.
“I’m glad to hear it. However, you must know: that man is not,” she pauses, for a moment, then takes a breath and goes on, “he’s not Bucky Barnes anymore. They made him into a killer. He’s dangerous. You will be like ghosts: there will be no record of you. Your missions may take you into places SHIELD cannot protect you from. This assignment may very well end badly for you.”
“I know the risks,” Nick says, unwavering, and it’s true; but he also knows the potential - if there’s even a chance the can aim Barnes’ strength at their enemies, he’s willing to do whatever it takes.
The look the Director gives him is longer, this time. Whatever she sees makes warmth fill her eyes.
“Good,” she says, eventually. “I think the two of you will work well together.”
They've barely stepped through the safe house door before Barnes is shoving him up against the wall. He pauses, hands on the buckles of Nick’s uniform.
"You want to?" Barnes asks, voice low.
We shouldn't be doing this, Nick should say, but just like all the other times his traitorous hands go to Barnes’ belt, tugging him closer to bite at his jaw. Barnes tips his head back, baring his pale throat as he deftly unbuckles Nick’s belt and peels his combat gear away, shoving Nick’s pants down just far enough to run a teasing finger up the inside of Nick’s dark thigh. He pauses, gives Nick a sharp-toothed almost-smile, teeth flashing white in the darkness, and then he's on his knees and leaning in and mouthing at where Nick is already thickening, trapped in the confines of his underwear. His hips jerk, and Barnes' mismatched hands come up to pin him solidly against the wall, the shock of cool metal on overheated skin enough to draw a sharp gasp out from Nick's throat.
Barnes seems to take that as a signal, reaching in and pulling Nick's cock free, and there's a moment where he just presses his lips to it, the only softness among all the hard muscle Nick can feel pressed up against him. Then Barnes is swallowing him down, and Nick can only hold on, and try not to come too quickly.
It only happened once:
It’s just after a mission. The evening sun glints off Alex’s golden hair, lighting up the blue of his eyes. There’s blood dripping from a cut on his temple and a smear of gunpowder under his eye. He looks perfect.
It feels inevitable, then, for Nick to lean in and press their mouths together. By the time they pull apart Alex is flushed, mouth wet and swollen. He smiles, and Nick leans in again, but then there’s a hand on his chest, warm through his tac gear.
“Come on, Nick,” Alex says easily, still smiling that gentle smile as he pulls away. “You know I’m not like that.”
It’s funny, though: there’d been a moment when Nick had been sure Alex had kissed him back.
It’s easy with Barnes. They don’t talk. They don’t talk about a lot of things.
Barnes pulls off just as Nick’s teetering on the very edge. He licks at his lips, gets to his feet and turns away to the bedroom, peeling off his combat leathers as he goes.
For a moment Nick just watches, taking in the sight of Barnes’ retreating figure and all the smooth solid muscle of him, the broadness of his shoulders, the strength in his thighs, the pale inviting swell of his ass.
By the time he steps into the bedroom Barnes is laid bare, stretched long and lean across the bed’s expanse, dark hair fanned out across the pillow. His metal fingers are wrapped carefully around the head of his cock, stroking slowly. At the sound of Nick’s knees hitting the edge of the mattress Barnes’ eyes flash open, dark with a look that Nick now knows to mean hunger; and that’s all the warning he gets before Barnes leaps up and tugs him down onto the bed by the straps of the combat gear he hasn’t taken off yet.
Barnes muscles Nick down onto his back and presses one last wet kiss to the head of his cock before he pulls a condom out of nowhere and eases it onto Nick, and then he’s moving forward until they’re pressed up close, all that pale bare skin scraping up against the coarse fabric of Nick’s combat gear, and there’s something thrilling about the fact that he’s still almost fully clothed, but by then Barnes’ hand is on his dick, easing it carefully into the slick warm clutch of his body. Nick gets a firm grip on Barnes’ thick waist and slowly works him down onto his cock, and when he’s fully seated they both lean in, panting against each other’s mouths, the closest they ever come to kissing.
Then Barnes starts to move, and they quickly find a rhythm, the motion familiar now; Barnes is a good teacher, and Nick is a fast learner. Now, he knows where to put his hands and his mouth and his cock to make Barnes come, knows how to decipher the meaning of each sigh and shiver and moan: more, harder, yes -- there, come on, touch me like this, right there, please, oh. This isn’t like their first few awkward fumbles, Nick uncertain and inexperienced, Barnes like a wild animal, touch-starved, not knowing how to go slow. What they have now is good, and easy, and simple, and if Barnes makes a choked noise that sounds like “Steve” against Nick’s skin when he comes, they don’t need to talk about that, and if Nick is thinking of blue eyes and golden hair as he follows Barnes over the edge, gasping with it, well, they don’t need to talk about that either.
This is the first time, though, that Barnes hasn’t immediately pulled away after they’ve both finished. Instead, he eases himself off Nick with a slick noise, before peeling off the condom and flicking it with startling accuracy into the trash on the other side of the room. Then he curls up against Nick’s side, metal arm hidden beneath the pillow like either of them could ever forget that it’s there. There’s a moment where they just look at each other, Nick trying not to let the surprise show on his face, before Barnes turns his face into the pillow and breathes out slowly.
Nick dozes for a while, lulled by the warm weight of Barnes pressed up against him. It takes him a few minutes to realise that Barnes is speaking, very quietly, like it’s a secret.
“--and they put him in the tank, and I was screaming, and they made me watch as they did it, and it was the worst thing they ever did to me --- and then they made me forget it, they made me forget him, God, how could I -- it should’ve been him, you should’ve pulled him out --- Steve--”
At that, Nick snaps awake; Barnes has never said that name aloud, not since that first time.
“Barnes,” he asks slowly, alert to the fact that he needs to treat carefully. “Barnes, what is it?”
Now that he knows that Nick is awake, it’s like Barnes has lost the ability to speak. “I can’t-- they won’t--,” he tries, before abruptly lifting his flesh hand to his mouth and biting down, hard, on the meat of his thumb.
“Hey,” Nick says, getting a hand on Barnes’ wrist and tugging it away from his mouth, pulling up the edge of the sheet and pressing it against where dark blood is already beginning to spill. “How about -- let’s try something else.” Gently he pulled Barnes’ index finger away from the fist Barnes was making, easing it down on to his own chest. “Can you spell it out for me?”
M-E-M-O-R-Y, Barnes taps out first.
“You remembered something?” Nick asks, “from before?”
S-T-E-V-E, he writes. T-A-N-K.
“You remember Steve in a tank? Like the tank they kept you in?” Nick can feel his heart beginning to race: if this means what he thinks it means. Christ. Sure explains how the Red Room has continued to thrive in Barnes’ absence.
S-O-L-D-I-E-R. S-T-E-V-E. Bucky’s hand is shaking. Nick covers it with his own, turning onto his side to face Barnes, who lets out a long, shuddering breath.
“They -- I had it all this time. Why did it. Why did it take me so long to find it.”
“Hey, hey, Barnes, look at me,” Nick says softly. “We can use this. We can get him back. I promise you,” he continues, bringing up his other hand to rest against Bucky’s chest, “we’ll find him, and we’ll bring him home.”
P-R-O-M-I-S-E, he taps out on Bucky’s skin.
T-H-A-N-K-Y-O-U, Bucky writes back, eyes wet.
He presses himself against Nick’s side, burrows his head into Nick’s shoulder. Nick tucks an arm around him, holds him close: not a ghost at all, but a person; real, solid, warm beneath his fingers.
It’s that thought that he takes with him down into slumber: Bucky Barnes made it out of the ice. Maybe Steve Rogers can too.
They sleep. Tomorrow they have work to do.
….I don’t know where this came from or why I wrote this. All I know is that I am now a lot more invested in Nick Fury than I was before I started writing this??? Now I want to go check ao3 to see if there are any Bucky/Fury fics out there..
Summary: The skin of the frozen hand was unnervingly intact and leathery, shrunken to the bones like an old man's--like Bucky's hands ought to be, if he were properly ninety-seven years old.