Dr. Anastasia Jorgenson considered her calendar thoughtfully, then glanced around her office and nodded. Like everything else in the medical floor of Stark Tower, her office was equipped with the latest technology (Stark), furnished with extraordinary taste (Potts), and accompanied by music that soothed the soul and complemented the ear (Banner).
Since being recruited by Stark as house counselor, her life had certainly taken a few odd turns. Her actual patient load was small, just the current residents of the Tower, but that was enough to fill a lifetime. And if her contract didn’t forbid it, a prodigious number of medical journals.
First and foremost, Stark himself. Daddy issues. Mountains and mountains of Daddy issues, exacerbated by the presence of two of the most significant of those Daddy issues in residence in the Tower. Abandonment issues, compensation issues, a genuinely earned case of PTSD, narcissism, and more. Needed to talk, endlessly, and at random times of the day and night. Mostly night. Mostly wired. Her circadian rhythms were shot to hell because of Tony Stark.
Then the unflappable Miss Potts. Equally effected by PTSD, as well as really surprising body image issues. Fear of inadequacy. Fear of commitment (well, when you’re committing to Tony Stark, can you blame the girl?). Fear of Stark’s commitment (see above). An impossibly accomplished woman with absolutely no faith in herself.
Dr. Banner. She’d read about his work in the journals, and about his life after the gamma radiation accident in classified files. His issues were monumental and unprecedented. He was, however, supremely self-aware, and his coping mechanisms were extraordinary. His issues were so specific, so biologically driven, there was little she could do for him, beyond listen and offer the odd suggestion for calming music, food, or activity. Their sessions were more often simply conversation, and she’d come to look forward to her time with Dr. Bruce Banner, perhaps more than was strictly professional.
Yes, she looked forward to the sessions with Dr. Banner, more than was professionally appropriate. Well, she wasn’t dead, and he was attractive, warm, and really quite witty. And there was no chance of any impropriety considering the rage issues that could be triggered simply by elevating his heart rate. So, safe zone, and she never let down her professional mask. And the company the conversation seemed to help him. So there was that. A win-win.
Which made up, in some small way, for the utter failure of Natasha Romanoff. The woman was a complete cypher, so closed off emotionally that she wondered if she’d ever reach her. And yet, she’d personally witnessed moments of genuinely affection and humor in Romanoff’s interactions with Barton, Banner, Rogers and even Barnes. But she chose what emotions were shared with whom and when. Anastasia had seen Romanoff’s file, and had read what had been released to the internet by Romanoff herself. A complex woman who’d undergone truly frightening training, and come out somewhat whole at the other end.
What she really, really wanted to do was to get Romanoff alone, over a few drinks, and just listen to what the woman had to say. She knew her stories and her perspectives had to be fascinating. But in a clinical setting, she was determinedly silent.
Not so the case with Clint Barton. If she was reading the signals correctly, there was something deep and strong between him and Romanoff, although she couldn’t honestly label it using any conventional labels. There was a grace to their movements, as if they each anticipated the other in the split second before each moved. Economy of motion and poetry. But where Romanoff was stoic – she was Russian after all, something she felt compelled to point out on a regular basis – Barton was loquacious with a biting sense of humor that often devolved to puerile. But he talked, he talked about his past, about his possession by the Asgardian Loki, his cognitive adjustment, his missions. What he didn’t talk about was Romanoff.
So, a narcissistic billionaire, an overachieving CEO, a brilliant scientist with monumental rage issues, a Russian spy, and a talkative archer. And then, there was an actual god in there, too. All muscles and chivalry and actual thunder and lightning. Fucking Thor of goddamned Asgard. And what a bundle of issues he was! The idea of talking through feelings was alien to him, but once he’d warmed to the idea, he’d been more than willing to talk about anything and everything, from his conflicted feelings about his brother (who broke New York), to his grief over his mother’s death (the woman sounded beyond badass, and she kind of mourned her, too), to his fears over living well beyond the days his love, Dr. Jane Foster, would ever see. He asked questions, too, little things and big – so much of her world of “Midgard” confused and perplexed him. Gender barriers, for example. Laws regarding marriage. What baseball is and why anyone cares what the fox says.
Why two people who clearly care very deeply for one another can’t see what’s right in front of them.
And, inevitably, that brought her to Barnes and Rogers.
Perhaps the most challenging cases of her career.
Amnesia is something she can handle. It’s an imprecise descriptor, masking a myriad of actual conditions, causes, and stressors too numerous to name. But there is a language, a framework from which to work, familiar techniques and cutting edge thought in the field. There are precedents and experts. Things she can try, things she can suggest.
No one has ever treated 70 years of butchery and abuse and identity destruction and dehumanization and degradation and … the file on Barnes is extensive, 70 years of sadism and horror. The first time she read it, she vomited for 20 minutes straight. And she’s counseled more than one Holocaust survivor during her career. She could not fathom anything more horrific than that, until she read the file.
The second time she read the file, she not only vomited and passed out cold on her bathroom floor, she’d woken clutching her husband’s service revolver, barrel to her mouth, with no memory of how she’d gotten there, or how she’d managed to get the weapon from his sealed gun safe. Thank God he’d found her before she’d managed to do anything more in her fugue state. They’d had to discuss repositioning the safe and getting a better security code (her husband hadn’t realized she’d guess his birthday on the first try). And she was going to need therapy herself in the meantime.
They’d fucking offered the goddamned Nobel Peace Prize to the man who’d been responsible for Barnes’s own personal hell for the past 30-plus years.
She understood vengeance. It was a good thing Pierce was already dead, because anyone reading that file would feel an uncontrollable compulsion to creatively and repeatedly commit heinous and foul acts upon his rotting flesh while keeping him just alive enough to stay aware.
She shook her head. She needed to clear those thoughts. They were grotesquely unprofessional. But they were human. But worse, they weren’t productive. She didn’t know if they would ever be productive.
Because no one knew what Barnes remembered.
Barnes had been a resident of Stark Tower for over six months now. Physically, his wounds had healed, not even leaving white tracings of scar behind. His neural pathways had regenerated, forming new pathways as well as healing old ones, and the gouged out parts of his brain had actually grown back, fresh and new. His arm was much improved. Even his hair had grown back – he wasn’t just adorably fuzzy-heading any longer. He sported a luxurious head of hair, and every day, looked more and more like that portrait Captain Rogers had painted. Not the Barnes of the newsreels, but the Barnes of before.
And that just didn’t make sense, not with everything Barnes had endured, survived. Not unless he was either in complete denial, or his amnesia ran so deep, he couldn’t remember anything of the past 70 years. It was possible – the brain damage could have prevented memories from forming, she supposed. No one truly understood how memory was formed and retained, and no one had ever seen the extent of damage Barnes’s brain had taken. But if the issue was amnesia, it was nice, but that didn’t mean those memories wouldn’t break through at some point, and if – no, when – that happened, the pressure of those memories could be devastating. Could crush him out of existence.
And no one knew what Barnes remembered because Barnes still could not communicate verbally, couldn’t type, couldn’t write, couldn’t crayon, text or skype words. Couldn’t respond to words of any shape, size, or methodology. He was talkative enough, though. He chattered away in his sessions, half-smile on his handsome young face, blue eyes dancing, but the sounds that came out where no language known to man. Gibberish, maybe, yet he seemed to be thoroughly in command of his verbal skills, just not speaking in a language they could understand. And none of them could reach him with words, either.
Speech pathologists and linguists both had worked with him, studied his speech patterns, scanned his brain, and observed hour after hour of recorded footage, approved by Captain Rogers, and no one had been able to crack the code.
Rogers had consented, but he was concerned that he’d overstepped his rights (he was still on record as Barnes’s next of kin and medical power of attorney). As soon as footage of the first session was available, he’d shown it to Barnes, mimed, gestured and somehow communicated to Barnes that the footage was being reviewed, studied. And Barnes had granted explicit consent then.
It fascinated her how much Barnes and Rogers could communicate without words. How creative Rogers could be, really. And it wasn’t lost on her how attentive Barnes was to everything Rogers did, how receptive he was to non-verbal cues that a normal person would likely miss. The history books and newsreels and academic tomes didn’t mention a sexual or romantic relationship between the two men out of time, but still …
The speech pathologist suggested that Barnes’s brain had done a hard reboot, that all learned language had been forgotten in favor of his earliest language, his proto-Barnes-speak. Or, as Rogers called it, “BuckySpeak.”
A form of aphasia, perhaps, one unique to his circumstances. His brain had suffered more trauma, over a longer period of time than any human being in the history of human beings. The level of trauma was unprecedented. The duration of trauma was extended over 70 years, but analysis of the Winter Soldier tapes (by a team that had to be desensitized before they started their work, and admitted to intensive therapy after) had calculated that Barnes had been out of the ice a total of 327 days over the course of that 70 year span. Less than a year of contiguous time, which put Barnes at about the same age as Rogers, instead of nearly a year older.
In that 327 days out of the ice, 210 days had been filled with trauma of one sort or another – invasive surgery, torture, electroshock wiping, untreated head injuries. Some “missions” they’d thawed him out for only a few hours. Until the fall of SHIELD, except for a few longer missions at the beginning, and a scattered few over the years, he’d never been outside of cryogenic suspension for more than a day or two.
And while under cryogenic freeze, ice crystals had formed in his blood, in his cellular membrane, in his brain tissue, with apparently no chemical preservative or buffer. They’d just shoved him into the freezing compartment, closed the door, and flipped the switch. On some days, he was aware and screaming as the cold went down. Later, he’d stared blankly ahead, and the expression on his face in those recordings was truly frightening – he’d looked like he’d welcomed the cold.
There hadn’t been much finesse, and there hadn’t been much concern for the care and comfort of “the Asset” as he’d been code-named.
Banner and Stark were still studying the impacts to his nervous system, to his brain, to his overall health as a consequence of the violence, the neglect, the environment and the physiological changes.
It was her job to address the psychological.
So they were left with the remains of James Buchanan Barnes. Who, truth be told, seemed to be coping remarkably well so long as Steve Rogers was nearby. Too long apart, and Barnes would become twitchy, anxious, kinetic. A little longer, and he’d start acting out, limbs striking out at anything solid. Walls, furniture, expensive sculpture – it all held the same value to Barnes in those moments, something to strike and break. Even longer, and he would fold in on himself, collapsed to the floor, knees drawn up to his chest, legs crossed at the ankles, hands wrapped around his toes as he rocked back and forth, back and forth, with increasing urgency, all the while chanting a phrase that no one had yet been able to translate.
And it would all end abruptly as soon as Steve Rogers entered his sight, and Steve would come over and simply touch Barnes, like it re-attached him to reality. Small touches for the most part, a hand on his shoulder, fingertips in his hair, or a bear hug to still the incessant rocking.
So, the Avengers had all agreed that until Barnes could be safely separated from Rogers, until he was stable enough to leave the Tower, Captain America was on sabbatical. No public appearances. No missions. No life outside Stark Tower.
And when she’d asked him how he felt about that, when she’d asked the Star Spangled Man with the Plan how he felt about being trapped in Stark Tower with the man who’d been his childhood friend – and perhaps more? – but who might never really be that man again, she hadn’t been surprised at the answer.
“It’s Bucky. Where else am I supposed to be?”
He’d also had some other, saltier comments to share on the subject of therapists, expectations, and just what everyone seemed to think were his limitations, but that’s the subject of another session. She smiled at the memory.