At first they'd thought simply to manipulate his thoughts, his opinions - to take Sergeant Barnes, one of the Allied Forces' precious Howling Commandos, and turn him into HYDRA's strongest supporter. A nice thought, but it didn't quite take.
The final attempt went too far, and he lost everything.
And really, they all agreed, that was probably for the best.
Then it turned out that he hadn't lost everything.
The soldier aims. His target enters the cross-hairs of his scope. He fires.
Misses. His target bent over at the last second, and now stares at the hole in the wall behind him.
Cover blown, the soldier stands and fires a few more shots in the hopes that maybe - yes, his target collapses, hit.
The target's bodyguards are approaching, firing. The soldier needs to get away. He turns, runs.
When Bu - the sold - when he wakes, he's been recovered by HYDRA. They don't realize he's awake, that he knows something is wrong here.
He takes down twenty of them before someone knocks him out.
The accident of that final attempt became a standard to replicate.
Became something that required replication.
A machine was built.
A rival kicks the soldier off a rooftop.
An explosion knocks the soldier out of a plane.
An avalanche -
"Falling, falling, always with the falling," someone gripes. "If we are to keep him from remembering, we must keep him from falling, I think. But does anybody listen to me?"
After every deep freeze, during the brief retraining before the soldier was given a mission, they slowly disabled that connection. The soldier was made to fall short distances as part of his training - distances which became higher, and higher, and higher, until it could be reasonably expected that any fall that would awaken his memory would kill him first. The soldier was taught to keep a tighter grip on edges and handholds and to make his own if none existed. The soldier was trained until his first instinct became hold on.
Slowly, the remembering stopped.
Then somebody decided to defrost Captain America.
The soldier was put on ice again. Whatever possible outcome might result from their meeting, even just a glimpse in passing - HYDRA couldn't risk losing either of them. Not until Project Insight. But as things turned out, Captain America was a lost cause regardless, and the soldier could be saved if they applied the machine as needed.
"Bucky?" the man on the bridge asks, disbelieving.
"Who the hell is Bucky?" asks the soldier.
As needed became more often than recommended.
"...but I knew him."
More often than recommended seemed to turn into the permanent solution they had sought after for so long.
It was a shame they didn't have more time to enjoy it.
The soldier has a mission. The man on the bridge is a hostile. He is a danger to the mission. He - the soldier does not know him.
They fight, and fight, and the soldier is choked until he loses consciousness.
He shoots, and shoots, and still the project fails. He has failed. He is pinned to the floor of a sinking, exploding ship.
The hostile frees him.
The soldier still has a mission.
The hostile won't engage.
That's fine. The soldier hits him, and hits him, and - and -
The floor falls apart. Instinct has him clinging to a bar, safe for now, watching the hostile fall into the ocean below.
But that's wrong, he thinks. I'm the one who falls away from you. Before he can question where the thought came from, he's let go.
The soldier falls, one last time.
Bucky hits the water.