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Assets Out of Containment

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Costa Rica sucks.

All right, all right, Isla Nublar isn’t technically part of Costa Rica. The story is that some rich bastard bought this island back in the early ‘90s, made dinosaurs on it, got eaten by the dinosaurs, left the island to a corporation that technically owns the place now and is filling it up with more dinosaurs. (No word on how Costa Rica feels about a multinational conglomerate hiring Americans to build fifty-foot murder machines off its coastline, by the way, although if his suspicions turn out to be right, they probably don’t have a choice about it.)

The point is, it’s tropical, which means hot, which is a problem when you rely on long sleeves and gloves to fit in with the standard-model humans. God knows he’s handled worse in the name of a mission, but he figures he’s sweated out about two of those $7.50 bottles of airport water by the time he stands in front of the arch of dinosaur bones that marks the hotel’s main gate.

The whole idea of dinosaurs, incidentally, should sound really stupid. But Barnes is a little different than the average Jurassic World tourist. Not just because he should be extinct right now, too—would be as dead as the T. Rex skeleton they’ve rigged up in the airport, if things hadn’t gone seriously weird in the winter of 1943—but because when he was a kid, he believed in science the way other people believed in God. Becca volunteered at the church three times a week and Stevie (an honorary Barnes) had that insanely overdeveloped moral code that was the only big thing about him, but Bucky Barnes was the true believer in the family. He knew that someday cars would fly, cities would be built on the moon, and sickly little punks like Stevie would take a pill that would fix their squeaky lungs and wobbly hearts once and for all. He might not ever be one of them, didn’t have the grades or the brains for college even if he’d had the money, but he had to believe there were people who could make a better future. The way he saw it, he couldn’t afford not to. 

What he got instead was a future where scientists squashed your memories into the corners of your skull so they could program in new orders and built city-sized flying submarines that could kill ten million people in a blink, but hey, at least they paused to get rid of polio before they jumped right into cloning extinct ancient nightmare monsters from mosquito guts, so, hey, go science.

Barnes gets distracted easily these days. He’s been standing in one place for long enough, thinking about all of this, that in retrospect, it’s inevitable that some kid was going to crash into him. He’s had enough practice controlling his reactions now that the kid is in no immediate danger—the fingers of his twitchy left hand close into a fist in his pocket instead of reaching out to grab and throttle—but the pressure of the small body colliding with his, and the chirp of “Sorry, Mister!”, bring him back to the present.

Pull it together, Barnes. You got a job to do.

As soon as he thinks it, his eyes do a quick scan and he spots two security cameras, one on the underside of a shop awning and one on a post over the tram stop. Obvious as hell, which is the point, but there might be a second layer of security that’s less obvious, and there’s no way to guess what kind of facial recognition software they’re running. It’s possible he’s already been marked, in which case he’ll find out soon enough, but he’s betting they don’t waste the computing cycles unless they have reason to get suspicious. So, he needs to not give them one. He shoulders his bag and makes with the wide-eyed sightseer act as he moves toward the hotel.

Tourist traps, they call places like these. Ex-HYDRA-asset traps, too, if he’s not damned careful. He focuses on making just enough eye contact with the desk agent to seem normal, saying the same rote crap the other tourists say about how he can’t wait to see that one dinosaur that eats the shark and his favorite dinosaur is the T. Rex, has been since he was a kid. (That’s a lie; he secretly prefers the stegosaurus. Armor plates on its back and killer spikes on its tail: come on, that’s pretty badass for an herbivore. But that’s a potentially memorable sentiment, so he keeps it to himself.)

The credit card, one of a dozen he swiped while D.C. was on fire and nobody was watching the HYDRA safe houses, goes through without a hitch; he’s been expecting it to die any second for months now, but apparently the CIA’s still too busy flushing out the bad guys to send a fraud report to Citibank. The desk clerk barely even glances at the driver’s license, which calls him David H. Mitchell of Canton, Ohio. When she hands him his room keys and tells him to have a nice stay before turning back to her cell phone, he allows himself a little spike of satisfaction. Phase 1, insertion, successful. Begin phase 2: gather intel.

The asset, the Soldier, had one protocol only: insert, eliminate, extract. The only autonomy he got was in the split-second decisions, and sometimes they’d even punish him if they didn’t like his choices about that. (The clusterfuck with the SHIELD boss on the highway, for instance. He was plan H at that point, not supposed to break cover unless everybody else failed, and the part they got upset about was a guy in full face coverage ending up on Youtube?) They never involved him in planning, and it was rare that he ran deep cover missions at all. What he’s using here is knowledge he pieced together himself, from fragmented memories of what was going on around him over the years, stuff he was never intended to need or know. Steve would probably have a good line about that, about evil sowing the seeds of its own destruction or something—

No. Think about Rogers on your own time. You know, when you’re not trying to prevent HYDRA from getting its hands on a pack of trained murdersauruses, dumbass.

Murdersaurus. That’s actually pretty good. He’ll have to remember it, he thinks, as he heads toward the elevator.

The rooms in this place come in Premiere, Luxury, and Platinum, which means stupidly expensive, absurdly expensive, and Tony Stark-on-payday-would-consider-this-excessive-for-a-theme-park. The cheapest floor in Premiere is full of tired, snippy parents and squealing, overstimulated kids, but when he shuts the door, the noise in the hall cuts off abruptly. He closes the curtains. He sweeps for bugs, thoroughly. He boots up his laptop and runs a software program to hide him from the wifi network, but even so, he makes sure to visit a few innocuous sites—a map of the park, “The Top 12 Things You Can’t Miss on your Visit to Jurassic World”—before he checks on the two Google alerts he’s got set up: “Steve Rogers” and “Captain America.”

When nothing particularly new or interesting comes up under either, he feels a little bit of tension leave his right shoulder and spine. He shuts the laptop, tosses his sweat-soaked clothes on the bed, and walks into the bathroom to take a shower.

In the safety of the steam, Barnes finally lets himself go. Images of Steve on the helicarrier swim up behind his eyes, and he leans his left arm against the wall and puts his face under the spray. He’s hauled that heavy arm around for months, dealing with the constant drag on his shoulder, with the slight overbalance that’s murder on his spine, with its freezes and malfunctions and increasingly frequent need for the wrenching motion that makes its servos stabilize. The least it can do is hold him up, for a change.

On some level, Barnes knows that “don’t think about it” is advice that has worked over the long term for exactly no one ever. It’s a short-term coping mechanism, at best. But Barnes has seventy years of crap in his head to deal with, and Steve… Steve would try, but his thinking is so black and white. His Bucky was a good guy, and then his Bucky was a helpless tool in the hands of the bad guys, so now that he’s free, Bucky is a good guy again, full stop.

Barnes agrees completely with the second premise. The other two are… complicated. 

He knows Rogers has been looking for him since he pulled his disappearing act in DC. Sam Wilson (and what is he, anyway? Rogers’ friend? Partner? New and improved Bucky?), a surprisingly resourceful guy, has gotten closer than he should’ve twice now, and it took all the tricks Barnes had to throw the guy off his trail. He also knows it’s pointless to try to stop himself from checking up on Rogers (last seen being a complete frigging idiot in Sokovia, a place Barnes wouldn’t’ve gone back to if you paid him even before it got demolished by killer robots). He knows that in a few months, a year at the outside, he’ll have to go home and deal with his unfinished business. But he needs to figure out who he is now, and for that he needs distance, and quiet in his brain. And whether or not he was at fault for what he’s done, he already knows this new self can’t really move forward until he’s figured out some kind of atonement.   

Will this be it? He isn’t sure. Hell, he isn’t even sure yet that there is a mission here. Almost all he has to go on is a specific memory of two midlevel HYDRA grunts talking in his presence right after the last time they pulled him out of cryo. One of the grunts looked at Barnes and said snidely, “They get the new assets down in Costa Rica on the job and this guy’s the one who’ll look like a dinosaur,” before the grunts’ mission commander snapped at them to secure the bullshit. It’s not just the words; it’s the commander’s tone that Barnes still can’t quite shake out of his head, the one that means listen, soldier, you are literally about to get all of us murdered.

Loose lips sink ships, all right.

Several times, while he was planning this mission, Barnes almost threw in the towel and sent an anonymous tip to Stark instead. No way a guy who builds flying robots as a hobby is going to be able to resist “HYDRA wants to weaponize dinosaurs,” and it’d probably take him two hours to bring the full wrath of the Avengers crashing down on Isla Nublar. But there is another reason Barnes ultimately decided to get a boots-on-the-ground look at the situation before he lets anyone else in on it.

The reason is simply this: He can explain the choices he made during the war and the lack of choices afterward, the brainwashing, the assassinations, the moment of weakness that made him abandon Steve on the riverbank and the realization of how screwed up he is that keeps him on the run from Steve over a year later…

But James Buchanan Barnes could never look himself in the mirror again if he passed up a chance to fight a Nazi dinosaur.