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Read Me Like An Open Book

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The red book with the red black star sits on the table in front of him, right where Natalia put it earlier. Bucky doesn’t know if he’s been looking at it for five minutes or five hours. Time seems to have slowed down and frozen since Natalia came and went like a ghost.

His mind tells screams at him to open the notebook.

He wants to. Wants it more than anything else in the world at this very moment.

Because he has to see for himself what’s inside it, even if Steve has already told him what’s in there.

There’s info about him in there,mixed in with info about the other subjects of the Winter Project and different HYDRA bases throughout the world. His mission success rates, his skills, the things that can trigger him and make him go into a killing spree, the blueprint of his metal arm and the way to deactivate the traps inside of it, and the drugs to use on him to make him compliant and as unthreatening as possible are all specified, as well as the blueprints of the chair and the cryo tank (just in case one or both of those items has to be built if the few existing ones scattered around the globe weren’t available for a reason or another).

But that’s not what he’s dying to see with his own eyes.

Because all of those things—he knows them.

He remembers them now because, with no brainwashing or cryo for years, his brain has had the time to completely heal (un)fortunately.

He remembers the torture and his training. Every painful second minute of it. He remembers his trainees. The ones he’s turned into merciless monsters like him. The ones he’s executed. “Too weak.”/“Too slow.”/“Only the best for HYDRA.” He remembers his victims. Every face and word “Please, let my son live! No! Ivan! Iv— and scream and tear and sound and smell and witness killed “No failure allowed, Soldier. Eliminate the mission and any witness or there will be punishment”.

There’s only one thing he doesn’t remember anymore from his time as the Winter Soldier.

The list.

Ten words. Ten innocent words, according to Steve. (“I know those words probably have some hidden meaning but... I don’t know... I guess I didn’t imagine they’d be so... innocent.” Jesus, Stevie, don’t. Don’t say more. I. Can’t. I can’t, I can’t, I can’t— “I really didn’t imagine HYDRA using such words to... well, you know.”)

But Steve is wrong. So, so wrong.

Because even if Bucky never remembers them, he still knows they’re anything but innocent.

They’re full of blood. Dripping with it.

Just like his hands.

That’s why he has to see them. He has to see what made him a puppet in the hands of HYDRA for a lifetime an eternity and coated his hands with so much red.

(Every time someone on the news accuses Bucky of being an assassin “That man, that monster, should be prosecuted in a state or a country where death penalty is still legal.”/“Why are we even talking about this? If he pressed the trigger or activated the bomb, he’s guilty. Period.”/“We’ve all seen the footage of him. He’s unpredictable and dangerous. He’s like a rabid dog. And what do we do with a rabid animal? We put it down.” Steve keeps repeating to him that he was the weapon, yes, but HYDRA was the assassin, the one who really pressed the trigger.

But those words are no comfort to Bucky because he doesn’t think like Steve.

He never did.

He doesn’t consider what he did during the war to be for the greater good. He knows he’s an assassin, was one long before he fell from that train in the Alps. World War II and governments with agendas made him that way well before HYDRA. Made him kill not enemies for the most part, but kids and men probably as lost and scared and unwilling as him or with romanticized notions of war like Steve had back then. They all had to fight, participating in the bloodbath, whether it was through enlisting “America is our country now, dragule. You oughta fight to protect it. It’s your duty. You don’t want your mamă and surori to have to leave everything behind them and flee again, do you? So be a man and do what you have to do to protect them.” or through the draft.

In the end, he wasn’t really willing to go to war. Just like he wasn’t willing to kill for HYDRA. So, was there a real difference between the two? Despite all the hours he’s spent thinking about it, Bucky still doesn’t know. He’s pulled the trigger for both, that’s the only thing he’s sure of.

Inhaling deeply, as if to give himself the courage to do what he aches to do, Bucky’s metal hand reaches towards the red book... but stops before making contact.

His metal hand immediately balls into a tight fist, and the plates of his arm weapon/abomination whirring faintly as they move, rearranging themselves to execute the movement.

He can’t do it. He wants to look at those damn words but he can’t.

Logically, he knows that what’s inside that notebook can’t affect him anymore, thanks to the prototype that Stark sent to Wakanda: a new technology that modifies traumatic memories (Just don’t want you to murder someone’s else parents, Robokiller. So don’t thank me, the note said). It doesn’t change anything.

The fear of the book is still there, as ingrained in him as the Winter Soldier.

T’Challa told him that Stark’s machine could get rid of all of that for him, but he just couldn’t allow himself to do it.

He can’t let himself erase everything and start over with a clean slate. It’s not right. Not when those he’s killed can’t come back. Not when those he’s hurt like Stark’s son are still hurting. He doesn’t deserve that peace.

Closing his eyes, he takes hold of the book cover and finally opens it. When his eyes are open again, he sees them.

Those ten words hand-written in Russian.

A flood of memories and thoughts assaults him. His voice and many, many others invade his mind, producing a cacophony that would have driven him mad if he wasn’t already halfway there.

 

longing (Mamă’s soft words in Romanian before bed when he was a little boy, Stevie’s skinny face, his sisters’ laughters, Tată’s accent, Stevie’s wheezing breath during the night that meant that he was still alive, a pencil and a piece of paper, Stevie’s drawings, Sarah Rogers’ cooking and her Irish songs, the soft curves of a woman, red lips like heaven and sin, the smell of cologne and perfume and smoke and Brooklyn and— I wanna die. That’s all I want. Oh God, please, let me die. Please, please, please, I beg you—)

 

rusted (“It’s outdated. They’re better, faster and stronger than it. It’s of no use anymore. Put it in cryo and store it in the warehouse.”)

 

seventeen (“Congratulations, Soldier. Seventeen’s skills has been evaluated and deemed very good. She’ll become a perfect double agent. As a recompense for your hard work, we left something for you in your room. You know the rule. Enjoy it and end it.”)

 

daybreak (“Everything you do is for the success of Mission Daybreak. We need you to create a better world. You do want a better world, don’t you?” asks the voice of Alexander Pierce in his head and he remembers nodding absentmindedly, his body full of chemicals and his brain dazed and hurting after the electroshocks but knowing somewhere, deep down, that it was what he indeed wanted, but also that if he didn’t agree with the handler’s words, the white hot pain and the confusing voices in his head will come back again. And he’d do anything, anything, for that to not happen.)

 

furnace (The result of the cheap version of Steve’s serum he received. Sometimes, he feels his temperature rising and can’t do anything but wait it out while the serum makes him feel like he’s being burnt alive. His veins, his bones, his brain, his limbs, his flesh... His whole being feels like it’s on fire. He’s in Hell... or Hell is a place inside himself.)

 

nine (The number of deadly traps inside his arm to prevent him from tearing or accessing himself the inside of it to get rid of the tracker and the vials of poison/EMP hidden somewhere in the mechanism. “Try to escape again and you’re dead. Is that clear, Soldier?”)

 

benign (Zola’s face. The devil himself. Little Nastenka and her babydoll face. “My name’s Anastasia but Mama calls me Nastenka. You can call me that too if you want. And you? What’s your name?” Still the prettiest little girl he’s ever seen, even dead, her head lying at an odd angle, her blue eyes wide-open and looking right at him, her murderer. “It’s a shame she wasn’t good enough. We could have had use of a beauty like her.”)

 

homecoming (What he’s never known and will never know. He’ll never return to Stevie home because he’ll never be not afraid and cold so cold and alone so he’ll never truly be James Buchanan Barnes/Bucky/a man/human again have a place that is safe and warm again.)

 

one (Alone. One arm. One metal arm. Zola’s chosen one. The first Winter Soldier.)

 

freight car (The end. The beginning.)

 

Steve was wrong.

Those words most of those words didn’t have any special meaning to HYDRA.

But they meant everything to him.

When a teardrop falls on the page he’s been looking at, splashing on the word “longing,” Bucky finally closes the book. He carefully takes it and goes in his room to hide it under his mattress to have it close to him and within easy reach.

 

From then on, every morning or night when he wakes up after the umpteenth violent nightmare, his first reflex is to grab the red notebook and read the list, one word after the other, one horror memory at a time.

It hurts. 

Hurts more than the drill digging through his flesh and bones and tearing off what little remains of his left arm.

Hurts more than the cold seeping through him—his skin, his skeleton, his mind, his soul—and becoming an eternal part of him.

Hurts more than the electricity running through his skull and brain, taking away every little thing that makes him a person until he’s only a black hole, a blank slate.

Hurts more than anything HYDRA ever came up with to destroy him and make him an empty shell, a void.

And yet, he keeps doing it. Again and again.

There’s not a day that passes without him reaching for the book with the red cover and the red black star to stare at the words.

Because that’s what he deserves. For all the awful things he did to this world, to make it the twisted way it is now, it’s only justice for him to feel pain for all the people who suffered—are still suffering—because of his work.

Free of HYDRA or not, there’s no happy ending for James Buchanan Barnes?/Bucky?/Who the hell am I? him. There’ll never be. He knew it from the moment he joined the army because it was the right thing to do and, in his place, his father and skinny Stevie would have done it without hesitation if they could have that it just wasn’t in the cards for him.