They were just minutes from landing the Quinjet; knowing there was a big possibility Hydra was prepared for them was an unsettling feeling. If Bucky was right and everything was a trap to lure him in, he would be the person with the best chances to get Steve back.
“I think you should have this.” Clint told Bucky gravely as he offered Steve´s shield to him. Natasha had retrieve it before the enemy base collapsed.
Bucky refused quickly holding up his hands in denial while nodding his head negatively. “No, I can´t.” It represented everything Steve was; and he now wasn´t.
Clint pushed it into his chest sternly. “Yes you can and you will! “ Looking at Bucky´s bewildered expression he added. “I know you know how to use it. Besides … Steve might need it.”
Bucky sighed defeated as he nodded in agreement; he was right. “all right. But I´m just holding it for Steve.”
“For Steve.” Clint agreed gravely; none of them had ever thought his absence would weight so heavily on their hearts.
“Are you sure we can´t get Thor or Banner back?” Tony asked Loki one more time.
Loki grunted annoyed. “I´ve told you already that the answer is no. It´s not like I just can give him a call. And even if I could somehow reach him the odds are that he´ll have his own problems to handle. He wouldn´t have taken Bruce with him otherwise.” He reminded him sternly.
“So … it´s just us then.” Tony scowl worryingly. What if Hydra had a trap designed specifically for every one of them?
“What do you mean it´s just us?” Loki eyed him more than annoyed by his comment. Like if they weren´t going to be enough.
“No … sorry. I didn´t mean it that way. It´s just … I wish they were here with us. You know, for …” It didn´t mattered he had been so angry at him only a couple of days before; he was too worried now to care about that. “Are you really going to make me say it?” He whined discomforted.
“It wouldn´t hurt you to say it.” Loki reprimanded him angrily. Tony´s frown grew even bigger. Loki sighed in disbelief. “He won´t give in that easy.”
“Are you talking about Steve or Bucky?” Tony asked curiously.
“Probably both.” Loki acknowledged; he might not like Bucky but it seemed he did care deeply about Steve. “Now stop looking so gloomy.” He ordered him firmly. “We have work to do.”
“Ready guys?” Clint spoke up as they maneuvered to land in a snowy plain field between some trees. “Let´s just stick to the plan. Whatever happens one of us must get to Steve, all right?”
Everyone agreed. “Yes.”
“Now let’s go get our boy back!” He ended while getting an arrow out of his quill.
Fight broke out the second they step out of the Quinjet just as they had expected. As they got deeper into the base one by one they were separated until only Bucky remained. They wanted him alone; that much became obvious when he walked undisturbed through several levels. Still there was no sign of Steve anywhere. Suddenly he walked into what it seemed an underground harbor under the poor lighting. No one in sights as in the levels before.
Taking him by surprise all the lights turned on. “I´ve been expecting you … soldier.” Shuralov welcomed him from behind a control panel.
“Where´s Steve?” Bucky yelled angrily while pointing his gun at him. They better have not killed him …
“Captain Rogers?” Shuralov asked feigning surprise before changing his tone. “so rude of me … I almost forgot.” With a maniacal grin on his face he pulled up a lever.
A metallic sound called Bucky´s attention; placed at the middle of the harbor there was a chain in the water that now was being pulled out swiftly by the pulley mechanism. His heart skipped a beat when a couple of shackled hands emerged. His eyes widened in horror as he recognized Steve´s battered body. As soon as his head was above the water Steve began coughing harshly; some of the water had found its way into his lungs. Bucky paled with rage wondering how long had he been submerged before he arrived. The chain kept pulling him up until he was about 50 feet above the water. His chest and feet were bare; his trousers were the only clothing item they had left him. Bucky clenched his jaw vexed at the spectacle feeling his blood boil as Steve raised his head; he had a split lip, a black eye that was beginning to fade and a large purple bruise on one of his cheeks.
“Bucky” He spat in a sigh; forcing a weak smile. They had come for him … during the last past hours he had begun to fear they wouldn´t get to him on time.
Bucky heart sank at his state. “I told you I would find you.” He said loud enough for Steve to hear. Just hang in there Steve … I’m here for you. Turning to Shuralov he ordered menacingly. “Let him go!”
“I don´t think so.” Shuralov volunteered smiling with an air of self-satisfaction.
“I don´t think you understood me.” Bucky yelled enraged while aiming his riffle at him. “I said let him go.”
“No.” Was Shuralov´s calm answer looking straight at Bucky in defiance. Next he flicked a switch in the console. Immediately an electrical current ran through the chain towards Steve who screamed in pain when the discharge reached him.
Bucky took his shot against Shuralov; nothing happened. He shot again sure he had hit the mark the first time. Shuralov laughed before he pressed another button turning some extra-lights on just before flicking the switch off. The whole panel was encased in a bullet proof glass; Bucky´s shoots haven´t even dent it.
Bucky frowned upset lowering his gun as he alternated his gaze between Steve who shivered hiding his face from him after the electric shock and Shuralov who smiled pleased.
“Now that I´ve made myself clear. Give up or I´ll …” He flicked the switch on again zapping Steve again.
Bucky snarled at him irked for an instant before turning his eyes anguished to Steve who writhed in pain. “Wait!” He yelled distressed; down casting his gaze he added. “Let him go … and … I´ll surrender myself to you.” He couldn´t bare Steve suffering like that anymore.
“Bucky no!” Steve yelled alarmed through tears of pain.” Don´t do it! I ….” He contorted under a new wave of electricity.
“Be quiet.” Shuralov harshly scolded him taking his time to flick the switch off. “We are talking.”
Steve trembled strongly in a superhuman effort to quiet his sobs. If Bucky saw him that broken … he fell at the end of his strength.
“Surrender yourself … and I´ll let him go.” Shuralov offered in response without any intention of holding up to that promise.
Bucky frowned as he kept eyeing both Steve and Shuralov. “How do I know you´ll keep your word?” He asked sternly, he wasn´t sure how much Steve could withstand. He had to think of something …
“You don´t.” Shuralov acknowledge wryly. “You can either give up or …” He pulled the lever down dropping Steve a couple of feet’s before stopping his fall harshly; extracting a painful grunt from Steve in the process. “I could just immerse your friend while I flick the switch. I´m curious; what do you think will give out first? His heart or his lungs?” He said arrogantly thinking he had already won.
Bucky knew there wasn´t a chance that he would deliver on his word. He turned sideways slightly trying to position himself in the right angle and at the same time keeping his movements hidden from him long as he could. Reaching for Steve´s shield with his left arm he threw it as swiftly as he could against the chain snapping it in half dropping Steve into the water with a loud splash. “How about you die instead?” Within a second he started firing against the bullet proof glass relentlessly knowing it would only take some time to pierce through it. He looked askance at the water surface; there was no sign of Steve. He grunted upset firing one more time at the glass; just small cracks had appeared … he didn´t had the time for that. Without any further delay he plunged into the water after Steve. He found him a couple of meters from the surface struggling to untangle himself from the heavy chain that dragged him down. Swiftly he reached him; their eyes meeting for a few seconds; Steve´s face filled up with relief at his presence warming Bucky´s heart. He tried for a moment to free his hands from the shackles in vain; it was useless they probably had been made for him. Knowing Steve´s air supply wouldn´t last too long he untangled the heavy chain from the shackles and pointed Steve up. Steve nodded in agreement as he laboriously started to make his way to the surface.
Shuralov had hidden behind the panel when the first crack appeared on the glass. When Bucky stopped firing he rose up catching a glimpse of him diving into the harbor. Furiously he growled. “This isn´t over … soldier.” Resentfully he pushed a red button. The whole base blinked with red lights; he had activated the self-destruction. Laughing manically while the first explosion caved the ceiling above him unexpectedly. Blood splattered everywhere when a heavy block squashed him. More heavy blocks fell into the water.
When Steve rose up from the water big rubble chunks kept falling all around him. He twirled around looking. “Bucky! Bucky!” He yelled desperate; there was no sign of him anywhere. He huffed distraught; next he took a deep breath and submerged looking for him; nothing. “Bucky! Bucky!” He kept calling for him in despair. Forsaking the fact that the whole place seemed to be falling over his head he dived again. This time he went deeper despite his shackled hands. Through murky waters he finally found him; a beam had fallen over him pinning Bucky against the bottom. He tried lifting it up unsuccessfully; looking worryingly at Bucky´s unconscious face he frowned deeply before rising up again. Once in the surface he inspired repeatedly trying to get as much air as possible into his lungs before diving back. Struggling he held Bucky´s face between his shackled hands. “Please …” He begged as he closed his eyes and proceeded to blow all the air in his lungs into his mouth. “Don´t leave me … not again …” He prayed with all his heart.
Maybe it was the air being blown into his lungs; maybe it was the soft touch of Steve’s´ lips on his own, but whatever the reason Bucky suddenly came to. He squinted surprised when he found Steve blowing his own air into him with his eyes closed; frowning in deep anguish at his current predicament. Knowing there might not be another chance Bucky held Steve’s’ temples gently and kissed him. If he was going to die he wanted to steal that one moment; he poured his entire soul into that one kiss trying to convey all the love he felt for him. Steve opened his eyes startled. Bucky … his Bucky was … kissing him? His heart pounded hard in his chest overjoyed … if only he wasn´t trapped under the beam. He knew it could very well be their last moment together; he would never abandon him. Closing his eyes again he kissed him back heart fully letting himself fade into their kiss, wishing it could last forever.
Suddenly he could feel some movement in the water as well as a low hum growing. Instinctively he opened the eyes to find Tony in his Iron-Man suit looking at them with his arms crossed. Tony was grinning widely inside his helmet. “Just look at you two.” He thought to himself. “The whole place is falling down and you are canoodling.”
Steve tapped Bucky´s shoulder hurriedly before breaking their kiss. He pointed the heavy beam to Tony, next he pointed to Bucky and lastly to the surface.
“Yes, I know. Your boyfriend is pinned down under it.” Tony thought still amused. He nodded affirmatively as he joined Steve in his effort to release Bucky from under the rubble. Between both they raised the beam out of the way not without some effort; Bucky winced slightly when they finally did free him. Noticing Steve signaled quickly to Tony. “Take him up.” Tony swiftly nodded in agreement as he fired his propellers lifting Bucky to the surface in a matter of seconds.
Unknown to Tony and Bucky was the fact that Steve had given Bucky all of his air leaving none for himself. After all he had thought he could hold his breath for a very long time; and it would´ve been the truth … if he had been in optimal conditions. Delayed by the weight of the shackles and his worn out body his slow ascent was interrupted by the undeniable instinct to breathe. Betrayed by his need for air, cold water filled his lungs instantly. His eyes widened panicked for an instant as he choked; then … nothing. “He´s safe.” His last conscious thought as he surrendered himself into the darkness.
Tony flew Bucky up to a ledged that oversee the harbor formed by rubble that had fallen from the upper levels where Loki waited for them anxiously. He coughed harshly as he spat some water that had found its way in. “Steve.” He asked hastily between coughs.
“Don´t worry he …” Tony turned around expecting to see Steve on the surface waiting for him to lift him up. “Damn!” He coursed out loud plunging back immediately. It didn´t took him long to find Steve´s lifeless body slowly drifting with the current on his way to the bottom of the harbor. “God, no …!” He exclaimed distraught muffling a sob. Gently but quickly he cradled Steve’s body within his arms. He looked at him through tearful eyes; he looked like a sleeping angel, a peaceful smile in his face despite his injured features that were softly stroked by his golden hair floating disarranged with the current.
“Tony! What´s wrong?” Loki asked alarmed over the comlink after hearing him. He feared the answer his mind was giving him.
“Take Bucky outside …” Tony ordered gravely straining his voice not to break. “I’m taking Steve to the surface with the others … Loki … hurry!”
His tone confirmed Loki´s fears; he paled at the thought.
“What happened?” Bucky yelled equally alarmed. Something was wrong …
“I … don´t know.” Loki lied to him. “He’s´ taking Steve straight to the Quinjet. We´ll need to run.” Loki told him anxiously, he didn´t had enough energy to teleport; not after the harsh battle they had been in.
Bucky raised up hastily; without any further word between themselves, they both started running to the exit through the rubble that kept falling in some points of the structure. Their hearts beating fast not only because of the effort but also by the fear of not getting to Steve on time.
“Clint!” Tony called out anguished while swiftly making his way through falling rubble. “It´s Steve … he needs help!”
“What happened?” Clint inquired worryingly. He only recalled hearing Tony that alarmed before … when Doom took Loki away.
“He … drowned … “He could feel the weight the words as he uttered them; making everything real. “I … the whole place is falling down … God!” He struggled to find the right words unbalanced by the loss of his friend.
“Tony calm down!” Clint ordered sternly. “How long was he down?” He demanded strongly. I´m not going to lose him.
“I … I´m not sure … a minute, maybe two … I don´t know.” He volunteered distraught. Not Steve, not like this …
“We haven´t lost him yet, you hear me Tony?” He yelled trying to snap Tony out of his grief. “We haven´t lost him yet! Bring him in as fast as you can. You hear me? Fly him straight to us. “
It took Tony a moment to pull himself together; breaking the silence he answered. “Copy that.”
Clint and Natasha looked at each other relieved of hearing Tony more calm. In less than a minute they could hear the sound of Tony´s repulsors and quickly scanned the skies for him.
As soon as he landed they ran towards him. Their eyes widened for a second harrowed; Steve´s lips had a blueish tone, partly because of the lack of oxygen partly due to the ice cold water he had been plunged in.
“Oh God!” Clint exclaimed distraught as he meant to take Steve from Tony´s armored arms. Steve was stone-cold and soaking wet nothing on him except for his trousers. Without thinking it twice he removed his jacket and wrapped Steve with it as he lifted him with great effort and took him inside the Quinjet. Lying Steve in the floor of the craft he told Natasha hurryingly. “I´ll do the compressions, you breathe for him.” Natasha agreed with a nod as she started to count the compressions. Thirty chest compressions followed by two rescue breaths; they had to stick to that rythm. Clint pushed with all his strenght, suddenly he looked up for Tony. “We need to raise his temperature … bring the emergency blankets and … I don´t know; does this thing have a heating setting or something?”
“If it doesn´t it will have in a minute.” Tony volunteered removing the rest of his armour as fast as he could.
Loki and Bucky arrived as Natasha leaned to listen for normal breath sounds, checking for Steve´s breath on her cheek and ear. “Nothing.” She volunteered anxiously.
“Don´t do this to us Steve …” Clint scolded him distraught while continuing with the compressions. Natasha kept giving him two breaths every 30 compressions expectantly.
Tony placed his hand over his mouth nervously. He had done everything Clint had asked of him; having nothing else to do made him feel useless. Loki knew exactly how he felt; healing spells didn´t covered deaths by drowning either. He walked up to Tony slowly and looked into his eyes sorrowful. Tony took his eyes from Steve when he felt his gaze on him; their emotions mirrored in each other´s teary eyes. They held each other hands with a tight grip desperately trying to give each other the slightest measurement of comfort, soon their eyes were brought back to the scene playing in front of them.
Bucky was on his knees beside Steve; hoping against all odds for a miracle. Thick tears travelled from his eyes soaking the floor beneath him s time passed. Fearfully he reached for Steve´s motionless hand and very sweetly hold it in his. He broke down heartbroken leaning down enough to hold Steve’s hand to his face; he kissed it softly sniffling … he was so cold, so cold. With great effort he quiets his own sobs; he needed to say it even if it was too late. “I … I kept my promise Stevie … remember? I told you … that I would find you … no matter what.” He had to stop as he sniffled letting out a heart broken sigh. It wasn´t fair … he had lost him … he had just got him back and now he had lost him … again. Bawling he reproached him. “You just had … to … hold on.” He couldn´t continue; it hurt too much. Almost at the same time a choking sound came from Steve´s throat followed by harsh coughing that threw some water out of his lungs.
Swiftly Clint and Natasha turned him sideways allowing the rest of the water to come out. When he finished coughing they laid him down again. All of them were crying tears of joys without exception; feeling fortunate to have him back with them.
Steve looked at them questioningly through tired eyes and gingerly asked in a coarse voice. “Who died?”
“You did! You stupid punk!” Bucky told him while leaning down to embrace him; scooping him up between his arms tightly as he kept crying overwhelmed.
“No … I didn´t … jerk.” Steve jokingly answered relieved everything had ended. He was on Bucky´s arms; the only place he had always felt safe. He sighed satisfied just as he had done so many times before when they were kids. “Bucky … you are squeezing me too tight.” He complained wincing under Bucky´s tight embrace.
“Tough luck.” Bucky repplied strong headed as he loosen his embrace to look Steve straight to his eyes. “Because I´m never letting you go. You hear me? Never again!” Next he kissed him passionately, surprising a wide-eyed Steve that melted within a second in his arms.