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Winter's Ending

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Professor Xavier very kindly agreed to come to the city and see if he could help Bucky. When Bruce explained the situation - what Bucky had endured and how he had been affected, as well as the fact that some of his memories seemed to be returning when triggered, Xavier told Bruce that eh actually felt fairly confident. “It sounds very much as though the memories are there, but the programming has been set to prevent him from accessing them at will. A mental block, if you will. It is quite likely that, with Sergeant Barnes's assistance, I will be able to find that block and help him to overcome it. I can't guarantee anything, of course, but right now I feel fairly confident.”

Bruce did not tell this to Steve and Darcy; he didn't want to get their hopes up in case Xavier got there and found out that things were worse than they thought. He simply told them that Xavier had agreed to come at his earliest convenience - which, it happened, would be in three days.

Those three days were both extremely easy and extremely difficult. They were easy, in that Bucky was very simple to deal with. He adapted to Darcy and Steve's routine quickly, rising with them in the mornings and going about his day as if he'd always been there. Given simple tasks, he would complete them with a will, and often afterward bask in a quiet glow of pride that he had been helpful. Lavished with praise, he seemed to blossom. Shy smiles escaped every time he was thanked, and he stopped panicking every time he made a mistake.

They were difficult, in that Bucky had completely stopped talking, and utterly refused to be outside of either Steve or Darcy's company. He would not be alone at all, and the one time Darcy asked him to stay with Clint while she went on an errand resulted in a panic attack so severe that she'd been afraid he would have to be sedated.

He's like a kid,” Darcy confessed to Jane on the second day, while Bucky was in the gym with Steve. “A really scared, traumatized little kid.”

He's still not talking?” Jane asked.

Darcy shook her head. “Sam says it's selective mutism. He says it's fairly common among people who've been through the kinds of things he's been through, because they go for so long with no control over anything. Then they realize that this is something they control - whether or not they speak - and it's just a little thing, but it's something , so that's what they choose.”

Jane considered that. “So, in other words, he's being stubborn just for the sake of being stubborn.”

Not exactly,” Darcy replied. “I did some Googling. Some people, after trauma, will choose to stop speaking. Others find that they actually can't speak, even if they try. But it's not for the sake of being stubborn. It's about being overwhelmed and feeling out of control and needing something to hold onto.”

Hmm.” Jane considered that, eyeballing Darcy over the rim of her coffee cup. “Is he still sleeping with you?”

Darcy huffed out a soft laugh. “Did I mention it was like having a really scared, traumatized little kid?”

I believe you did,” Jane replied, smirking. “Does he like to sleep in the middle with his teddy bear?”

Be nice,” Darcy replied. “He can't help what's happened to him.”

I know,” Jane said softly, apology in her tone.

And anyway, no, he doesn't. He actually curls up in a little ball behind Steve. It's kind of adorable, but it's also kind of heartbreaking at the same time.” Darcy shook her head. “I think he has nightmares, but he doesn't scream. He just lays there and shivers. And last night I'm pretty sure he was crying.”

Jane's face crumpled. “Oh, God,” she said. “Now I feel like a horrible person.”

Well, you should,” Darcy said mildly.

I didn't mean -”

Darcy waved a hand. “I know you didn't. Just... try not to make jokes like that around him or Steve. I know you were trying to be funny, but Steve would probably get mad, and you might hurt Bucky's feelings.”

Jane sighed. “I'm sorry,” she mumbled.

Darcy stood and crossed the lab, reaching over to pat Jane's shoulder. “It's okay. Really. You were trying to be funny. But I've told you before not to do that.”

Jane gave a hollow laugh. “Yes, yes you have.”

A tap on the door frame interrupted them; it was Steve, with Bucky trailing behind as usual. “Hey,” Steve said. “Tony needs me up in his lab, and Bucky gets kind of agitated about the bots. Can he stay with you for a little while?”

Sure.” Darcy gave Bucky a bright smile. “Come on in, Bucky; there's no bots in here, so you should be okay. Unless Jane decides to open up a black hole.”

Not on the agenda,” Jane asserted. “Today is for white holes only.”

I thought today was yellow holes.”

Both of you need to stop before this turns dirty,” Steve interrupted. “I've seen how you get.”

Boo,” Darcy replied. “You're no fun.”

That's not what you said last night,” Steve replied easily, vanishing down the hall as Jane choked softly on her coffee and Darcy collapsed against the table, howling.

When she settled a bit, still snickering, Bucky was waiting in the doorway, patient, with a polite little smile on his face like he didn't get the joke but was willing to be included anyway if that was all right with everyone else. Darcy came to his side, reaching out and wrapping her hand around his metal one and tugging him gently into the room. “Come on, Bucky,” she said. “Sit down, take a load off.” She nudged him toward her desk. “Jane and I were actually doing a whole lot of nothing while the numbers compile.”

Bucky tilted his head slightly, a gesture of confusion, and Darcy explained, “Jane's an astrophysicist. She studies the stars, and things that happen in outer space. Right now she's trying to learn how to build wormholes that can be used for space travel.”

Both women watched as Bucky processed this information, an expression of patent disbelief crossing his face. Jane chuckled. “I know! It sounds like science fiction. And until Thor came from Asgard, that's what everyone thought. They called me a crackpot, you know. Said I was crazy.” She grinned, a little manic as she showed all her teeth. “And now they all want to know what I know about how it's done.”

Darcy turned her back on Jane, caught Bucky's attention, and rolled her eyes hard. Bucky gave her that lovely shy smile, and Darcy chuckled. “Anyway, as I was saying, we have to input the data into the computer, and then the computer crunches all the numbers. And that takes awhile, but we can't do much else until it's done, so -”

At that moment, Darcy was interrupted by a frantic beeping from one of the machines. Jane leapt to her feet. “Except that!” she exclaimed, rushing to the back of the lab. “We can do a lot of that!”

Is that the spectrograph?” Darcy asked, incredulous. “I thought it was -”

It is !” Jane screeched. “Get over here!”

Darcy pressed a hand to Bucky's shoulder. “Just sit here,” she said. She pointed at her tablet. “You can mess with my StarkPad, if you want to. And if you want anything to drink, there's water and soda in that mini-fridge over there, or coffee in the pot. You can have whatever you like, okay?” She waited for him to nod in acknowledgement before darting across the lab to help Jane.

***

He watched the two women work for a minute until he realized that they weren't going to do anything remotely interesting. Apparently their kind of science involved looking at computer screens and yelling numbers back and forth at one another. He found himself strangely disappointed; he'd had an idea in his mind that science meant explosions or things changing into other things or, at the very least, something interesting to look at.

He picked up the tablet that Darcy had pointed out. She'd shown him how to use it already, so he switched it on, perusing the little icons until he came across one that looked interesting. He thumbed it open and studied it. It took him a few minutes to figure out how it worked, but once it did, there was that sudden, shifting sensation again, of a memory sliding into place in his mind, and he felt something inside of him sing with joy.

He laid the pad flat on the desktop, picked up the stylus, and went to work.

***

When Steve came back, about an hour later, he found Darcy and Jane doing SCIENCE! at the far end of the lab, and Bucky sitting at Jane's desk, hunched over something and apparently working very hard at it. He walked over, making enough noise to avoid startling Bucky, but Bucky didn't even look up; he was busy. Steve stopped at the side of the desk and leaned, blinking in surprise at what he saw.

Bucky had found the drawing app on Darcy's StarkPad - the one that she occasionally used to doodle anime figures and he sometimes used when he wanted to test techniques before trying them on paper. The first shaky strokes were visible on the paper - Bucky unsure of himself, rediscovering his abilities - but they were all but buried under the flood of imagery that had followed.

The background was made up of broad watercolor strokes of deep crimson. In the center of the image was Bucky's own face - or rather, that of the Winter Soldier, in full battle gear: goggles over his eyes and mask covering his nose and mouth. As Steve watched, beneath the face of the Winter Soldier, the catwalk on the third helicarrier came into being, himself in bright royal blue at one end and Bucky in solid black at the other. Beneath that, in gold, four words in Cyrillic lettering: но я его знал.

Steve didn't know what it meant, but it broke his heart all the same. He said nothing, though, until Bucky raised his head, looking up at Steve as if for approval. Steve reached over and touched an icon. “That's how you save it,” he said softly. “So you can look at it again later, if you want to. Or we could print it out.”

Bucky looked down at the image again, then back up at Steve, almost as if to say Why the hell would you want to do that? But he held his peace, and Steve didn't press. Instead, he said, “Tony's done with me. I thought maybe you'd like to take Max for a walk. There's a dog park not too far from here; we could take him and let him play with other dogs.”

Bucky nodded, standing up, and Steve turned to call across the room. “Hey, Darce! Buck and I are heading out.” Darcy waved back in acknowledgement, and the two of them left the room.

***

The next day, Professor Xavier arrived exactly at one in the afternoon. He didn't come alone; he had one companion with him, and when Steve came down to the lobby to show them in, he found himself slightly surprised but not at all displeased to discover that the professor's companion was someone he already knew. He offered his hand to the Wolverine, grinning broadly. “Logan! I'd heard rumors you were still around!”

Logan took his hand and shook it firmly. “Cap. Heard about you gettin' back. Bit of a mess you got yourself into down there in D.C., though.”

Just a bit.” Steve shook his head. “But let's save that for later.” He turned to the older man in the wheelchair and offered his hand. “Professor Xavier? I'm Steve Rogers. Thank you so much for coming.”

Of course,” Xavier replied, smiling warmly. “I'm happy to help.”

Come on upstairs and I'll fill you in on what I know.” Steve led them to the single private elevator that went up to the Avengers' floors and leaned in to the retinal scanner. The door slid open, and he gestured. “Gentlemen.”

Xavier entered first, maneuvering his chair easily, and Logan followed. Steve brought up the rear, the door slid shut, and Steve said, “JARVIS, eighty-seven, please.”

The elevator started rising and Steve leaned against the wall. “How much do you want to know?” he asked, his eyes meeting the professor's. “Everything? Or do you want to find out for yourself once you... see him?”

I know a bit already,” Xavier admitted. “Dr. Banner told me that Sergeant Barnes has been badly traumatized. He described repeated, excessive applications of electric shock intended to cause amnesia, application of mental programming techniques, and I believe he mentioned several decades in cryogenic preservation, as well as garden-variety torture and general mistreatment.”

Steve nodded, rubbing a hand over his face. “That's the general gist of it, yes,” he said. “They turned him into nothing more than a killing machine. He doesn't even think of himself as a person; he responds to his name, but I think he mostly does that because he knows we want him to. When we talked with him about names, he said that tools don't get names; they get labels.”

Logan made a sound of anger. “That's fucked up,” he said simply.

Yeah,” Steve agreed. “That's pretty much how I feel about it.”

Does he remember anything at all?” Logan asked.

Steve shrugged. “Some things. Not much. But he doesn't remember them like he's remembering, if that makes sense. He remembers them like he remembers reading about it or something. Like a story someone told him.”

Xavier nodded. “That's a good thing, though,” he said gently. “At least the memories are there. It may just be that he needs help accessing them and remembering how to use them.”

The elevator slowed and stopped, the doors sliding open. Steve stepped out and led Logan and the Professor to his door. He tapped on it before pushing it open, just to avoid startling anyone. Inside, Darcy sat on the floor, petting Max, and Bucky was sitting in a chair just as Steve had a few days ago, sketching her. Steve smiled slightly at the sight.

Both of them looked up when the door opened, and Max gave a low whuff . Darcy rubbed his head. “Shush, Maxie, it's just Steve and some friends.” Bucky looked concerned, but Darcy shook her head at him. “It's okay, Bucky. Dogs bark; it's what they do. He's just doing his job.”

Steve entered, holding the door for Professor Xavier and Logan. The Wolverine paused, taking in the sight of Bucky sitting there in the chair. “Damn, Barnes,” he said, shaking his head. “You look like hell.”

Bucky looked to Steve, back at Logan, and then back at Steve, raising his eyebrows. Steve said, “Bucky, this is Logan, also known as Wolverine. We knew him back in the day; he fought with us against the Hand and Baron Strucker, and then later in Tunisia.”

Bucky's brow furrowed for a moment, clearly a thinking expression, but then cleared. He gave an apologetic shake of his head. Logan said, “Maybe this'll help.” He held up a fist, and with a soft snick , extended one set of claws. They gleamed in the lamplight.

Bucky fell back and away from him so fast that he tripped over his own feet and fell, scrabbling backward like a crab. Logan retracted his claws immediately, looking startled, and Darcy let go of Max, who darted over to Bucky's side. Steve followed, taking a knee beside his friend. “Buck, relax. He's not going to hurt you. It's just a thing he can do; he thought if you saw it, it might help you remember. It's okay.”

Bucky trembled, but allowed Steve to help him up and bring him back to the sofa. Logan moved obligingly across the room, seating himself at the kitchen counter and leaning back to watch. Darcy reached out and patted Bucky's arm. “It's okay,” she murmured. “They're friends. They're here to help you.”

He gave her a look of patent disbelief, but politely turned his attention to Professor Xavier when the older man addressed him. “Bucky, my name is Charles Xavier,” he said, pitching his voice to be low and soothing. “Steve and Dr. Banner - Bruce - asked me to come and see you. I know quite a lot about the mind, and about some of the things that HYDRA did to you, and if it's all right with you, I'd like to see what I can do about helping to repair that damage. Would it be all right with you if I tried?”

Bucky looked at Steve, and then at Darcy. They both nodded encouragingly. He swallowed hard, turned his eyes back to the Professor, and nodded. Xavier gave him a warm, gentle smile. “All right, then,” he said. He held out a hand. Bucky stared at it for a moment, then reached out and tentatively laid his own right hand on top of Xavier's.

And they fell.

***

The landing hurt like hell.

Bucky stood in the snow and stared down at himself. Then he turned and looked at the man standing beside him. “That's me,” he said.

Yes, it is.”

That really fuckin' hurt,” he said.

I should imagine so,” Xavier replied. “You fell rather a long way.”

Bucky looked up, gauging the distance to the tracks. The train was already long gone in the distance, not even its echoes remaining. “Steve's gonna carry this one around for a long time,” he said. “But it wasn't his fault.”

You'll need to tell him that.”

Yeah.” Bucky looked back down at the place where he lay on the snow. “So that's where I lost the arm,” he said.

So it would seem,” Xavier said.

Huh.” Bucky continued to look at himself for a moment, then turned and looked at Xavier. “So, what now?”

Now comes the hard part,” Xavier said. “Show me your mind.”

How?”

Close your eyes.” He waited until Bucky had done so, and then said, “Think about how your mind feels when you try to remember things. How did you feel just now, when you were introduced to Logan and told that you knew him before? When you tried to remember him, and nothing happened? How did the inside of your mind feel at that moment?”

Bucky frowned. He reached inside, stepping out of the memory of his fall, and then his eyes flew open again. Now, instead of that snowy Alpine pass, he and the professor stood in a vast, echoingly empty space. He looked around slowly, and said, “Yeah. This is about right.”

There were odd gaps in the space, as though some patches of the air were even more empty than other patches. Xavier moved slowly through the space, examining some of the empty patches, and he said, “I'm put in mind of an art gallery.”

Bucky looked around. He narrowed his eyes at one hazy feature in the distance, and he strode towards it. It was Steve, but it was a transparent Steve, one that flickered in and out of existence, trying to share its space with something that was strikingly similar but much smaller and more delicate in size and shape. He said, “Yeah, kinda. I... I think maybe this used to be a statue room or something.”

Xavier nodded. “Now, let us see if we can discover where these statues have all gone.”

They walked together through the emptiness, and Bucky said, “I thought you were in a wheelchair.”

I am,” Xavier replied easily. “But here, I am not constrained by the limits of my physical form. Neither are you.”

Bucky paused, looking down at himself. He had been wearing a pair of jeans and one of Steve's shirts that was slightly too large for him. Now he was wearing his own clothes: a pair of slacks and a casual blue sweater. “Huh,” he said simply.

Within the confines of one's mind,” Xavier said, “one can be anything one likes.”

Mmm,” Bucky replied.

Some time later - it could have been minutes or hours - the massive expanse of space simply stopped at a wall. “Here it is,” Bucky said. “I thought this was here.”

So did I,” Xavier replied, “from what your friends told me.”

I tried to get past this before,” Bucky said. “I couldn't. I think there's a door somewhere, but I don't know where it is.”

Make a new one,” Xavier said simply.

I can do that?”

It's your mind. I would caution you, though, to make a door and not a door way . The feeling of access is heady at first, but you may find that there will be days that you will want to shut that door.”

Bucky considered. Then he nodded. “That makes sense,” he said. He studied the wall for a moment, then reached out tentatively with his left hand. He tried not to be surprised when it was made of flesh, remembering what Xavier had just said. He placed his hand against the wall, closed his eyes, and visualized a door. It was nothing elaborate; a simple wooden door with a knob. When he opened his eyes again, there was a door in the wall, just like he'd imagined except for the presence of an old-fashioned lock. A key stuck out of the lock.

He frowned at it. “I didn't put that there,” he said.

Xavier blinked at him. “No?”

Bucky shook his head. “No. I didn't put a key there. I don't want to lock the door, just be able to open it and shut it. If I can lock it, someone else can, too. I don't want that.” He reached out with his left hand to pull the key out of the lock, but when his fingers touched it, a massive electric shock burst from it. He screamed in pain

(no no the machine no steve you promised)

and came back to himself lying on his back, panting softly and staring up into Xavier's kind, worried eyes. He coughed. “That hurt like hell,” he managed.

I should imagine so,” Xavier said. He waited until Bucky could sit up on his own, then turned and crouched down to examine the lock. “Let's just see what this is all about, shall we?”