Two men huddle together on a thin-mattressed cot in a high security holding cell; the guards observing the video feed from the control room watch avidly. The prisoner is curled tightly into the side of Captain America, metal fist clutching at the fabric of the Captain’s shirt and face buried into his neck. These guards are some of the most highly-trained professionals in the world and this is by far one of the most fascinating things they have ever seen.
The prisoner- named James Buchanan “Bucky” Barnes, codenamed Winter Soldier, and who responds to neither- has been in this cell for the three months leading up to his trial and has been completely unresponsive with the exception of one trigger that has been avoided since it was first discovered.
It is thirty-four days after the arrival of the Winter Soldier -- metal arm and all -- to the holding block and he has not uttered a single syllable. When the guards asked why the Soldier retained the valuable weapon that the arm presents, it was revealed that there was no known way the arm could be removed; they were instructed to place the prisoner in a reinforced cell and keep watch of him 24/7. Despite the fact that the Soldier turned himself in, he is considered a high-escape risk and is not to be left unattended. No escape attempt has been made.
During his stay, the guards have watched him continually, though no one has entered the cell. The prisoner has a rigid schedule that he follows to the minute and none of them can figure out how he does it. The prisoner performs a rigorous four-hour exercise regimen twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening. Between the two workout sessions, he sits alertly on his cot with his back in the corner and the door and all cameras in view. During this time, he makes no movement whatsoever. He eats exactly once a day, consuming what must be the necessary caloric intake to maintain optimal form of his enhanced body -- because it is painfully obvious that he is keeping his body in tip-top shape. During the night, the prisoner sleeps for three ninety-minute cycles, waking precisely at the end of each cycle to ensure the room has not changed and his situation remains the same. He uses the facilities when he awakens for the third and final time and then begins his morning regimen. The guards are amazed at his almost unnatural ability to keep time.
Wonderment aside, the Winter Soldier has not responded to a single statement aimed at his person. He looks through the speaker with a dead-eyed stare that often unsettles even these hardened men. As attempts to get the prisoner to speak escalate, the topics selected range broad and wide until one day when the Soldier responds -- violently. One of the younger guards stands at the steel cutout of the cell door and, in his frustration with his lack of progress to get a response, states how disappointed Steve Rogers must be that the Winter Soldier is what became of the James Barnes that was his best friend.
Before the guard can take his next breath, there is a metal fist around his throat, making breathing a struggle but still possible. The rest of the guards rush out of the control room and every single one of them freezes when a voice that sounds like it’s been torn apart and put back together speaks for the first time.
“Bring Steve Rogers here.”
They all know that the man in the prisoner’s grasp could be dead, but isn’t. Nothing they have at their disposal would do a single thing against the arm shoved out of the slot in the door and their man isn’t dead yet. The shift leader steps forward.
“If you let him go, I’ll see if I can get permission to bring Steve Rogers here.”
Of course, they already have permission to bring Steve Rogers here as he is possibly the only person capable of matching the Winter Soldier for strength whilst staying in his right mind.
There is a feral growl and the men barely restrain themselves from taking a step back.
“You think I’m stupid? I know he can come. He told me that he would come whenever I asked for him, so bring him here, then I’ll let this one go.”
They glance at each other. None of them knew that the prisoner had had any contact with the man he tried to kill in D.C. eleven weeks ago. The Winter Soldier hadn’t said anything other than “I submit myself for a trial” from the moment he turned himself in and Steve Rogers made no comment about having seen the prisoner since D.C. when asked to be the Emergency Containment List.
The shift leader goes to make the call.
The asset hears the mission’s tread coming down the hallway and lets the idiot in its fist go. The man backs away quickly, rubbing his throat.
“Bucky,” the mission groans. It’s a drawn out, exasperated sound, but it’s not angry, not disappointed. The asset pulls its arm back in and puts its face against the hole in the door; the mission mirrors the asset and they touch foreheads. The asset can feel the confusion from their watchers, no matter how composed they may appear.
“Is this course of action mandatory?” The asset questions quietly.
The mission sighs. “Yes, Bucky. We have to let them have the trial and give them the benefit of the doubt that they will make the right choice.”
You’re so foolish, Stevie, the asset’s counterpart thinks. They ain’t ever gonna let a murderer like me go, no matter who he used to be.
“I cannot fulfill the parameters of my mission in this cell,” the asset responds instead.
“You won’t be here much longer. When it’s over, they won’t take you from me, I promise.”
The asset understands how greatly the mission wants the asset to be his weapon, to keep the asset at his side always. If they proclaim it innocent, which they will not do, the mission will not have to hide the asset, can display it proudly. But if they proclaim it guilty, and they will, then the mission must disappear with the asset, if he decides to keep it. They will be hunted, fugitives; the asset does not want that for the mission, but it will do what the mission requests of it, even if it is sitting alone in this dull, little cell for an indeterminate number of days while the mission helps prepare the case for court, even if it is going into that courtroom and hearing them rip the image of the asset the mission loves so dearly to shreds.
The mission sighs in relief.
Since that one visit, Captain America has not returned to the cell and the prisoner has returned to his previous schedule and attitude. It makes the guards discomforted. So when Captain America returns to the holding block the night before the trial to ask to be allowed into the cell and the prisoner’s dead eyes flame with life, the shift leader doesn’t even call his superior for permission; he just signals the men in the control room to unlock the cell door.
The moment the Captain steps through the threshold, the prisoner quickly manhandles him into the empty corner of the cell and puts his own body between the Captain and the door, glaring at the guards as if they personally attacked him. The guards reclose and lock the door and return to the control booth. They watch on the screens as the prisoner remains poised for a fight and Captain America leans against the prisoner’s back, wraps his arms around the Soldier’s waist, and nuzzles into the back of his neck; the prisoner relaxes in increments.
When he is as loose as they have ever seen him, Captain America leads the prisoner to the cot and then both massive men crawl onto a bed that barely holds the Soldier when he’s alone. The prisoner appears to want to sandwich the Captain between himself and the wall, making his body a very volatile barrier against anything that enters the room. The guards glance at each other; they did not realize it was like this.
The microphones pick up Captain America saying, “Get by the wall, Buck; it’s my turn to be the protector.”
Remarkably, the prisoner obeys immediately.
The asset feels warmth bubbling up its center. No one has wanted to protect the asset in such a long time. The asset will still be able to protect the mission from any threat from where it is by the wall. Its body reflexively curls into the mission, not to protect, but to be defended. The asset finds this acceptable; it is pleasant. The mission takes good care of his weapons.
The asset burrows into the hot skin of the mission’s neck and hears the mission mutter against its ear, “You are mine. I will tear the world apart before I let them take you away from me again.”
The asset grins.
The men in the control room look askance at each other. They silently and unanimously decide to pretend they did not hear the Captain’s last statement. They allow them to stay curled up together until 0545 and they do not call it in to their superiors.
Steve is spitting mad and has been since the day they decided to make a public circus of this trial. It should have been handled so very differently. He’s learned a lot in the two years since he woke up, but in the last three months he’s realized that he never should have trusted the justice of the public with Bucky’s past and future.
Steve had learned a lot about his friend in the five weeks he had him to himself. Bucky thinks of himself as the asset and as a living weapon; his mission has been to protect Steve Rogers since the moment that he overrode the mission to kill Captain America. The way Bucky’s mind comprehends Steve’s love is that he values the weapon the Soldier could be for him. Steve knows all this; he does not expect it to change anytime soon. Hydra and the Russians had seventy years to condition him and if this is how Bucky needs to understand Steve’s love to accept it, then Steve’s okay with that. Steve also knows that Bucky needs commands after so many years of no freedom of choice at all. The options available to him now send Bucky into a panic and if Steve’s rules and orders give Bucky relief, then he’s okay with that too.
He thought he was doing what was right, fulfilling justice and clearing Bucky’s name so he can go where he will without being arrested as an assassin of world-leaders. He doesn’t think that anymore and if they try to convict Bucky, Steve will simply take him and run. Let the world take care of itself; they have given enough, he’s not letting anyone take this from them too.
The Winter Soldier files Natasha leaked have been translated and circling the internet for months. But the populace is more concerned with the names of the dead than of the man still alive who has gone through decades of torture and horror. Steve has been busy though. He has been doing everything he can to show his support of Bucky and to put everything in the best light, but it hasn’t changed as much public opinion as he’d hoped. The one good thing he has done it to get Natasha, Barton, Stark, and Dr. Banner to back his play, if it comes to that. He’s afraid that it most likely will.
The first time Bucky was taken from him, he ripped apart the people who took him. The last time Bucky was taken from him, he crashed a plane in the Atlantic after decimating base after base after base after base. For the sake of his image, those last few days before the crash were kept as classified information and it was decided that the public did not need to know about their hero’s brutality. Unfortunately, for America, he’s back now and he will do so much worse if they try to take Bucky from him again.
From the moment the trial starts, Steve grits his teeth. The courtroom is packed and the media is everywhere. He can already tell that this is simply a place to make a spectacle of the Winter Soldier’s crimes before convicting him, can see the not-silent-at-all judgement on the faces of the jury. Despite that the attorney he’s hired for Bucky is doing his best, he knows everyone in the room made up their minds long before they came here today. The prosecution calls up doctors and psychologists, witnesses and tactical geniuses, family members of assassinated victims and files of all the good the dead were doing for their countries and the world. It is all very theatrical.
Bucky sits in his chair with perfect posture and a stone face. Steve has placed himself in a position where Bucky could see him, if he adjusted his chair slightly. The moment Bucky had been seated that’s exactly what he did. He hasn’t taken his eyes off Steve since.
The asset locks its eyes on its mission as soon as it is escorted into the courthouse. The asset’s hands are cuffed in front of it in a pair of impressive restraints; the asset considers if the guards actually thought this would confine it or if they were trying to help in their own little way. They are all smart men, except for the young one; they have seen its regimen. It doubts they think this would stop him, but the restraints looks restricting and they will not be able to take the blame when it breaks the cuffs.
There are too many people here. One of them could easily make an attempt on its mission’s life. The asset does not think that will happen, but it will keep its senses on alert for it all the same. Except for its eyes, the asset’s eyes are busy watching the anger trying to work itself through his mission’s controlled expression. Its mission is angry on behalf of the asset, not at the asset; it makes something warm crawl up the asset’s throat.
The asset does not pay attention to the proceedings at all; it should not waste valuable resources when it knows the outcome. So the asset watches its mission -- maybe to keep calm, maybe to block out all of the dead faces screaming at it in its head. It doesn’t matter; it watches its mission.
Captain Steve Rogers is called up by the prosecution. Captain Rogers swears in and takes his seat.
The prosecuting attorney begins the questioning. “Captain Rogers, how long have you known the Winter Soldier?”
A muscle in Steve Roger’s cheek twitches. “Sergeant James Barnes.”
“The name of the man you are attempting to convict is James Buchanan Barnes; the Winter Soldier is a weapon. You might consider attempting to find the person responsible for wielding the weapon, instead of attaching the crimes to the weapon itself.”
The judge cuts in, “Captain Rogers, the willingness of Sergeant Barnes is not in question. Please answer the question asked.”
Captain Rogers clenches his fists.
Just had to open your big mouth, Stevie, always lookin’ for a fight, the counterpart complains.
The asset is pleased the its mission knows it and its counterpart are different; that James Barnes had been asleep for a long time and that the asset does not come equipped with free will; that until James Barnes woke up that day on the helicarrier, the asset was just that -- an asset. But now James Barnes is awake and slowly but surely they are working on integrating James Barnes into the asset. The asset cannot go away; it’s been the one awake for too long, but maybe James Barnes and the asset can become one.
Damn, the counterpart thinks, too much deep thought. Now we’ve missed something.
Steve says the first thing that comes to mind.
“The willingness of James Barnes should be in question, but no one here seems to care about that at all. I didn’t fight so that prisoners of war could come back to their countries to find their people wanting to see just how quickly they can lock them up again. This humiliating circus you deem a trial. This isn’t justice; it’s blame–shifting.”
The judge cuts in once more, “Captain, if you cannot contain your outbursts, you will be held in the contempt of the court and ejected from the room until after a verdict is reached.”
“The verdict has already been reached; it was reached before a single person set foot in this room.” Steve glares at the judge. “Captain, I will have you thrown out of this courtroom.”
“Try it, see how far you get.”
Tactical error. Poor defensive maneuver. The asset internally rolls its eyes. This is why its mission needs a weapon; he’s too willing to fight, likes it too much.
Steve, you stupid idiot. Dumb move, punk. The asset couldn’t agree with the counterpart more.
The judge interjects, “Are you threatening the court, Captain Rogers?”
The courtroom is utterly silent, everyone waiting to hear the Captain’s response. Steve Rogers turns his entire body and gazes at the defendant, who has been watching the Captain with an unnerving focus and absolutely no expression since the moment he walked through the door. The Soldier’s countenance doesn’t even flicker, but he gives one minute shift of his head. At that motion, Captain Rogers jaw clenches and his eyes visibly harden, as if he can read something in that movement that the rest of the court cannot.
The asset shakes its head. The mission is behaving unwisely. A threat is a poor tactical decision. It will harm the mission’s standing in society. Harm is unacceptable. The mission will be harming himself on behalf of his asset. Harm is unacceptable. The asset is not worth any harm to the mission.
Several moments have passed without a reply.
The Captain’s head turns sharply toward the judge, who startles slightly.
“Are you threatening the court, Captain Rogers?”
Something dark tugs at the corners of the Captain’s mouth and his eyes are cold. He leans back in the witnesses’ chair slightly.
“Not yet.” The crowd sucks in a collective breath. “Allow me to ask you a question.”
Captain Rogers does not appear to be addressing a particular person, but rather the room or perhaps the world as a whole.
“Do you really think you are capable of keeping him from me?”
The room bursts into pandemonium and Captain Rogers discretely pushes three buttons on his phone.
Internally, the asset trills in ecstasy. Nothing will keep the mission from his asset and nothing will keep the asset from its mission. The asset will kill anything that tries. But not yet, not yet, not until its mission gives the command.
“Remove Captain Rogers from the room!”
Armed guards begin to move from their stations along the walls.
Or until its mission is in danger.
Before the sentries take three steps from their places, the Winter Soldier is in a defensive stance in front of the witness stand, titanium cuffs broken on the floor.
His expression is one of calm, deadly rage and everyone but the guards freeze immediately.
It is only because the room is so quiet that everyone can hear the grating, gravelly voice snarl, “Mine. “ Even the soldiers stop moving after that. "Come closer and I will pull your intestines out through your stomach and shove them down your throat.”
One of the soldiers lifts his gun.
“Are you sure you want to do that, son?” It would sound like a concerned inquiry from a national hero but for the terrifying look on his face. “Are you sure that you can take one of us down before the other snaps your neck?”
He says it so lightly, like the concept doesn’t bother him at all, and the gathered people just stare. Across the nation, these words ring out loud and clear from every television, computer, and tablet streaming the Winter Soldier trial live.
The Winter Soldier remains coiled while Captain America continues to speak, walking casually out of the witness stand to stand to the left of and slightly behind the yet-leashed, attack dog that is the Winter Soldier.
“While I have your attention, allow me to make something clear. I have given my all for this country, more than once. Sergeant Barnes has given even more. We have not asked for praise, or recognition, or reward. We have placed this country above our health- mental, emotional, and physical. We have placed it above our identities and sense of self, above our autonomy, and free will. We have put this country above our future, our proper time to die, and our lives.”
The entire nation was so silent one could hear a pin drop or, if one was listening closely, the high whine of arc reactor technology.
“Once before, we placed this country above each other. That will not happen again. We ask this now of you: do not come after us; if you do, we will kill you.”
With that the doors to the court room break apart and the soldiers lift their guns and two suits of titanium alloy mold to the bodies of Steve Rogers and James Barnes. The soldiers fire their weapons, the suits take off with their packages -- safe and secure -- inside, and the country sits in shock.
When the suits deposit them in the agreed upon spot in another country across the ocean, Steve ensures the supplies are all there before sending the suits back to Stark, informing JARVIS to thank Stark for all his help and that the team is welcome to come visit them at any time.
Steve pulls two changes of clothes out of one of the supply bags and tosses one pair at Bucky, who catches it and starts to strip. Steve changes quickly and then turns to one particular box of supplies. He opens the lid and pulls out the official, entirely legal, and legally binding documents obtain by Stark’s money, Steve’s history and fame, and Bucky’s Winter Soldier file stating his POW status and long survival of torture, and the mess the American government made of the trial. Documents that give him and Bucky protection from the United States in fourteen different countries. There are fake passports and identification for if they are ever needed and multiple forms of payment that all go to some account or another that is fed by Stark funds.
The final bag is full of weapons and that is the one that Bucky goes to first, taking his pick and leaving the rest for Steve, who is looking over the simple silver of his shield now that the paint has been scrubbed off. He likes it; it is simple, straight-forward, and always ready for a fight.
The asset watches its mission examine his shield out of its periphery as it hides the weapons on its body. Its mission looks pleased. Status: acceptable. Its mission puts the shield down and holds his arms out to his asset. Once again chooses the asset as his weapon instead of the shield. The asset goes to its mission and pushes its face into its mission’s neck, allowing the mission to do all the protecting. Its mission rubs his hands up and down the asset’s back. The asset decides it is an acceptable form of maintenance.
The asset is beginning to be overwhelmed with the options available to them or maybe hearing all the names of the people it dispatched is catching up with the asset now that the immediate threat has been overcome. Or maybe it is that someone had the nerve to take a shot at what belongs to it. The asset starts to shake.
“Take a deep breath.” It’s an order. The asset can follow orders. It takes a deep breath. “Let it out slowly.” The asset does as it’s told. “We’re going to go to the safe house. Then we are going to eat. Then we are going to get clean. You may choose whether it is a bath or a shower.” A well-laid plan -- simple, easy-to-follow. The asset is relieved. There is only one choice it has to make and it has at least 75 minutes to make it. That is acceptable, achievable.
“Then we are going to bed.” The asset is drained; sleep is good, and the mission is better. The asset will be able to sleep by the mission again tonight after three months alone in a too-small cot.
The asset curls its lips.The mission smiles back, soft and adoring.
The guards from the holding block all get together to watch the trial live. These men are professionals; they don’t fist bump or shout for joy. However, they do all wear satisfied smiles when the call comes in for the main shift leader. They all maintain they couldn’t have possibly known the prisoner would be able to break the cuffs and that the higher-ups should have provided them with stronger restraints.