In the end, tracking down the Winter Soldier is easy. And it’s the last place Rogers would look, because it’s the last place Rogers would want to believe he’d be. Fury finds him alone and docilely vacant at Pierce’s summer home in Narragansett, smooth clouds even grey over the pounding, restless water. The soldier hadn’t struggled, hadn’t made a sound as the TAC team moved in and seized him, wrenching his arms into the mag cuffs, pinning him face down against the porch. He hadn’t made a sound on the trip back to base, or during the scans and tests or surgeries to remove three tracking chips implanted in his spine. Hadn’t said a word under any form of interrogation. There was nothing worse they could do to him than what had already been done. Fury had eventually passed him down for Coulson to deal with, a courtesy more than anything. There wasn’t anything left to salvage. That’s what Fury believed. It would have been a kindness to put him down.
The soldier receives three meals daily, delivered on a plastic tray. He eats mechanically, regardless of substance, and is otherwise entirely disengaged from his surroundings. Three walls, a cot, a sink, and a toilet. The fourth wall is a reinforced plexiglass derivative designed to contend with various superhuman strengths and abilities, and it’s by way of a sealable gap in this wall that the food is delivered. When Steve is finally allowed to visit, it is by way of this gap that crayons and paper and peanut butter cups are delivered as well. Steve visits every day, stubbornly talking and drawing and drawing while talking and talking while drawing, every day. He says “I’ll see you tomorrow,” and then he comes back the next day. “We’re friends,” Steve says. The soldier doesn’t know what that means and after a time - a long time - he starts to resent it. The resentment grows and festers, the first real feeling he’s felt since the numbness after Pierce had been confirmed dead when the soldier had felt a creeping cold sickness seep into his body that had congealed into a blank, pervasive nothing. That’s what he had felt on the table, or in the cell, or alone, or in interrogation. Nothing. But when Steve says “we’re friends,” the soldier feels a thin, tight twist of something in his chest, and he glances through the glass where Steve We’re Fucking Friends Grant Rogers is sketching something stupid. But he tamps the feeling back down. He doesn’t want it.
Every day, three times daily, food is delivered on a plastic tray, with a sodden vegetable, a dry or drowning slab of meat, and either potatoes, corn, or a bread roll, and a candy. The candies come in thin foil or plastic wrappers, with names like “Twix” or “Twizzler” or “M&M.” The soldier doesn’t eat these. He pinches them gently between his fingers, first flesh, then metal, feeling the crinkle of the wrapper, testing the texture of the treat inside. “M&M” is hard little bullets. “Twix” is two separate slabs, firm on one side, soft on the other. “Twizzler” is springy, like a fingertip. Sometimes a “Payday” or a “Butterfinger” comes in a wrapper like an air-filled pillow, and the candy rattles gently inside, but the soldier can’t pinch it without popping the pillow, so he doesn’t know their texture. He keeps all his candies on the far side of his bed, away from the window. Some day someone will come in and take them away, but for now they are his treasure. He doesn’t know when he began to think of them that way, or even when he began to save them. Sometimes he can’t remember things. It’s better that way, for the most part.
Steve has left him a pile of drawings. They’re piled up, scattered over the floor near the slot where the food comes in. Drawings of strange animals and buildings and people the soldier doesn’t know. Some long time ago Steve had given him “Crayola” and a pad of paper. “Crayola” is crayons, and they smell like wax and dust and something else. All the colors are different but the shapes are the same, they’re all the exact same width and height, tapering to a point with just the tip lopped off. There are twelve colors.
Steve comes and talks and draws and talks. Steve “We’re Friends” Grant Rogers. When he leaves that day, the soldier draws him a picture.
Steve has been coming for six weeks, every day for six weeks when Bucky finally responds to him. Leaning against the window of the cell is a crude crayon drawing. Bucky sits unresponsive on the edge of his bed like he does every day, but the drawing is leaning against the inside corner of the window, so Bucky drew it. It’s Bucky, or what’s supposed to be him, floating above spikes of green grass with a rainbow beside him and the sun in one corner. Hair like a whisk-broom, metal arm raised, with a U-shaped smile on his big round face. Floating beside him are little brown rectangles, red ones, orange. “Twix,” one says in careful letters. “Skittle.” Scrawled across the bottom of the page in all capital letters: “FRIENDS.” Bucky in paradise with candy. Steve looks at Bucky, but he hasn’t moved. Steve doesn’t know what to make of it. It’s good that he’s shown some interest? There’s a thrill of excitement and pleasure and dread that goes through him, and in the end he sits and draws and talks and draws, careful now to keep an eye on Bucky in a way he’d eventually forgotten to do before. But Bucky doesn’t look at him or move.
The next day, there’s another drawing. Bucky in outer space, with candy. “FRIENDS,” it says, in firm, black lines.
The next day: “FRIENDS,” on a floating motorcycle, big smiling Bucky and his candy.
On a steep green hill: “FRIENDS.”
Underwater with tropical fish and toothy, red-gilled shark: Bucky and candy, “FRIENDS.”
One day, Steve comes in to find a picture of Bucky alone in a tiny boat, a U-shaped frown and chain-linked tears streaming down his face. “FRIENDS,” it says, the candy flying off the boat and sinking underwater. Steve tries to talk to him about it, but Bucky has never once spoken to him since he’s been here.
After that, Bucky and his candy get hit by a car. “FRIENDS.”
They fall out of an airplane. “FRIENDS.”
The candy gets eaten by a shark and Bucky cries long blue strings of tears. “FRIENDS,” it says, and Steve has had enough.
“You can’t keep him here forever,” he says. Coulson says “I’ll do as I see fit.”
Bucky gets impaled on a spike. “FRIENDS,” it says.
Bucky in five different pieces, limbs torn from his body, no candy anywhere. “FRIENDS,” it says.
“He’s showing progress,” Coulson says.
Steve says, “You let him out or I’ll give your coordinates to the CIA.”
“You would jeopardize the fate of the free world for one dangerous killer.”
“Yours isn’t a free world.”
Coulson says nothing.
“How many of Hydra’s heads started off just like you? How long before you’re one of them?”
“He’s a killer.”
“He’s my friend.”
In the end, Coulson lets Bucky go because he’s a drain on resources, and Steve has been reckless before. In fact, Steven Grant Rogers behaves very little other than recklessly, his history shows.
The day will come, the soldier knows, when they take all his candy away. For now, he lies with his cheek to the floor, arranging them in neat rows, categorized by color and name.