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There is nothing before and nothing after. There is silence, and cold, and the fibre-optics of his arm, the sensation of a phantom hand he does not quite remember having and does not quite remember not having. Every time he wakes, he is not the same man they put in.


There is nothing before. There will be nothing after.


There is the mission. There is the objective. There are the special instructions, and the schematics of each operation unique to each operation. There are the trajectories of the shot, the angle of the knife, and the pressure to put on the garrotte so that it cuts to the bone. There is the result, and the necessary logistics. There is the mission. There is the mission.


The Winter Soldier is standing in a crowded exhibit, looking at his own face. There are twenty seven people within a ten meter radius, four exits within a five second reach, and eight—he has counted—trajectories from which a point man could take him out. Eleven, if they are creative.


James Buchanan Barnes stares back at him, a sepia ghost seventy years dead, caught in the flash of a camera that is in all likelihood scattered across a dozen scrapyards. The dead man has confrontational eyes, a hunch in the shoulders, a set in the jaw. The dead man could never pass for a civilian; he could never get close enough to wrap his flesh and blood fingers around the target’s throat. But he could, the Winter Soldier thinks, have it in him to squeeze.


He thinks of his arm slicing through the water and the weight at the end, like hauling an anchor out of the deep. He thinks of waiting on that shore, listening for the shallow whistle of an exhale and watching for the rise of the chest. Captain America is not dead. The mission objective is alive, and he has failed. Steve Rogers is—


There is the mission, and nothing else, but.




In 2009, they pull him out of cryo and tell him that there is a strategic target coming out of Iran. Mostafa Shahriari has information that must die with him, the men in the lab coats say. There is an opening in Odessa. He has a wife and two children, a boy and a girl, already smuggled into safety at a safe house in Berlin. When you are done with the man, make sure his family stay silent, too.


Even the children? He asks.


Even the children, they reply.


They do not tell him what the information that must die is. They do not tell him what Mostafa Shahriari has done to incur the wrath of—of—whoever his handlers work for. They do not tell him why he, and not some low level field agent, has been given this job. They do not tell him why. They do not tell him why. They do not tell him why.


They do not tell him why, and he does not ask.


On a mountain road on the outskirts of Odessa, he lies for five hours in the shade of the trees, green and black smeared on his face, hair tied out of his eyes. He is wearing camouflage, his metal arm warm and warming under the noonday sun. His fingers are still around the VSSK cradled against the sloping ground, and he is watching the road through the scope, measuring the velocity of the wind.


Precision kill. Two hundred meters, target will be in an armoured car. Use appropriate force.


The woman? He had asked.


If necessary.


He hears it before he sees it.


The Lincoln Town Car rounds the corner, and he takes the shot.


Through the tinted windows, he can only see the vague shadow of the man’s profile in the backseat, a smaller, feminine one in the front, driving. The cartridge can penetrate 16mm of steel at two hundred meters, body armour at a hundred, but his handlers were very clear—there will only be one shot. There is only one vantage point. He will need to get them into the open. He will have to see the starburst of red, clear cut in the day.


The cartridge does not hit the tyre. The cartridge makes the impossible shot, in the bare half inch of space in between the steel plate of the outer panel and the still spinning back tyre. There is a fraction of a second, and he waits patiently, watching as the car flips.


It skids, and goes over the cliff.




The target will be coming after him.


This he knows, and it’s a curious change in the way he knows anything that seems to have existed before his last wipe. The weight of a gun on his wrist, the edge of the scope of a rifle against his cheek—these are things he thinks could have known, before. These are things he has known for a long time, since, since—


Do you, though? Do you really?


You have been wiped and frozen, and wiped and frozen, and wiped and frozen. You are sure you never learnt Russian, or German, or French, or Italian. You know you’ve never learnt to threaten in Mandarin, you don’t remember visiting D.C. but you know every street and every alley, and you know that you have never learnt to use a knife—if you never learnt these things, but you know them as if you have always known them—


How do you know that the settling in your chest, the click in the back of your mind isn’t part of the schematics of the mission? How much of this cognizance is the programming? How much of this recognition comes from the press of a button, a line on the monitor?


He remembers—recalls—recounts—no.


He has an impression of lone grey building on a snowy street, and its edges keep blurring. Laughter inside, the footsteps of children. In this impression, there is a knife in his hand, and the instructions say: this is a test.


He ducks into a nearby alley. There is nothing in his stomach for him to heave up, and when he holds out his hands in front of him, he finds that his fingers are shaking.


The target will be coming after him. The mission objective is—


The target will be coming after him. There is the mission, and nothing else, and, and.




On a mountain road on the outskirts of Odessa, he lies for five hours in the shade of the trees, green and black smeared on his face, hair tied out of his eyes. He is wearing camouflage, his fingers still around the VSSK cradled against the sloping ground, and he is watching the road through the scope, measuring the velocity of the wind.


The Lincoln Town Car rounds the corner, and he takes the shot.


It skids, and goes over the cliff.


There is the sound of a crash, metal hitting rock and water, a man’s scream, the sound of something latching on to stone. He waits, scope still against his cheek, lining up his second shot. Two cartridges, nothing more. Use appropriate force.


He counts the seconds as they go by. Two minutes and forty seven seconds later, a woman’s small delicate hand grab on to the edge of the rock, reach for the ripped railing that lines the cliff. It takes another half a minute before she pulls herself up on to the rock, reaching for the man below. She has already called for coverage, he knows. In her place, he might have done the same. In her place, he would not have needed the two minutes and forty seven seconds.


The first thing he notices is that the woman is hurt. She is holding her left shoulder awkwardly, as she grabs for the man below.


The second thing he notices is that she has red hair.


His finger falters on the trigger, and he blinks as she pulls the man up, speaking urgently into her comm. The scientist is gasping, and the woman (Romanova, Natalia Alianovna) is giving their location to the nearest air unit, which means he has less than four minutes to make the shot and disappear, which means he should have pulled the trigger two seconds ago.


The cartridge can penetrate 16mm of steel plating at two hundred meters. At a hundred, it can slam through body armour. Here, at a hundred and twenty, and no armour between the two of them, the cartridge goes through Natalia Alianovna Romanova’s stomach, and out the back of Mostafa Shahriari’s chest. It shatters his sternum, and he is dead before he goes tumbling over the cliff.


It takes him less than ten seconds to disassemble the rifle and place it back in the case. It takes him one minute to scale the rest of the ridge. By the time the air unit arrives, there is no sniper, no rifle, no casing, and Natalia Alianovna Romanova is bleeding out on the pavement.


On the way to the extraction point, his fingers twitch. At that last fraction of a second, after his mind gives the signal to pull and before his finger does it, he had shifted the rifle, accounted for wind speed, calculated velocity. The shot that would have hit Mostafa Shahriari in the throat through Natalia Alianovna Romanova’s head goes through her stomach instead.


If necessary, he remembers from the mission objective, he assures himself. Use appropriate force.




In the old regime, there was a theory that one agent in the right place, at the right place, with the right training would be more effective than an army. The people who handed him dossiers and Dragunovs in turn, who tuned up his arm and placed him into the ice cold of his tank—they have armies aplenty. Men and women and red rooms full of children, waiting to do what the Motherland decreed must be done. Sometime in the past, he knows, they started putting him into cryo in between missions, started getting more diligent with the wipes. Sometime in the past, he stopped being their attack dog and became something more specialized.


He is the gun in a knife fight. He is an army.


Bucky Barnes is not. The curator’s extracts in the museum tell him that Barnes was one of Captain America’s Howling Commandoes, was—for all intents and purposes—Rogers’ right hand man. In the footage, Bucky Barnes says something to a grinning Rogers and almost doubles over laughing at his own joke. The Winter Soldier feels a pull low in his stomach; not quite like recognition, not quite like the sensation of seeing your double in the mirror—that at least, they have not taken from him. It is like looking at a target through a scope, like observing the objective for the precision kill. Bucky Barnes’ grin would not fit on his face, he knows. Bucky Barnes is dead.


On his way out of the museum, he lifts: two wallets and a biography on Steve Rogers and the Howling Commandoes. There are two hundred dollars in the wallets, put together. He thinks it is enough for a train ticket. He thinks, vaguely, that he should go to New York.




“Mission report.”


“Target Mostafa Shahriari has been terminated ten kilometres outside Odessa. Target was shot once through the chest. The force pushed the body off the side of the cliff. Kill is confirmed. Targets Mahsa Kiya Shahriari, Naveed Shahriari and Soraya Shahriari were found in 42 Gollanczstraβe. Targets where asphyxiated. Kills are confirmed.”


The girl had woken up, he remembers. Soraya Shahriari (aged 8, 4ft 2 inches, 58 pounds, tall for her age) had woken up, but he had put the garrotte around her throat before she could scream. Her brother had died in his sleep.


“Collateral damage?”


“Three agents. Two CIA, one MI6.”


“And—” the man in the suit hesitates, almost. It could be classed as a hesitation. The Winter Soldier waits. “The woman? Romanoff?”


“Natalia Alianovna Romanova.” He replies, almost on instinct. Almost. “Alive. She was covering the target, and it was necessary that the bullet go through her. She—”


He cuts himself off. On the chrome table, his metal fingers twitch. His gaze drops to his hand, and the man in the suit follows his gaze.




The cartridge missed any major organs. It came out clear and clean, and if she survives the initial blood loss, there is no reason why she should not live. It had seemed important, at the time, that it should be so. That he should shift the rifle.


He closes his mouth.


The man opposite the table stands, and leaves the room.


He is tense. He can acknowledge this much. The muscles in his chest feels too tight, and in his arm—no, not that one—clenches under the table.


The door opens, and another man walks in. The Winter Soldier’s eyes drift over the three piece suit—navy, bespoke—and the understated but expensive watch on his wrist. The lines on his face, a flick of hair that might have been blonde once. His eyes flicker over the inch of skin the starched collar leaves bare, and thinks, idly, that he could kill this man in three different ways before he could sit. Eight, if the Winter Soldier stands up to do it.


The old man sits. “My name is Alexander Pierce.”


He does not move. Not an inch of him responds. They do not give him any names except the ones that need to be scratched off the list. He does not know what Alexander Pierce intends him to do with this information—he can’t very well be volunteering himself for the Winter Soldier’s NR-40.


“I’m a great fan of your work.” Alexander Pierce says. “That shot you made in Bucharest; twelve hundred meters through rain and wind. The first time I read about that, I toasted you.”


Bucharest. He does not remember making this shot. He does not remember visiting this city. Perhaps this should bother him, perhaps—


“I was very happy when we were able to acquire you.” Pierce carries on. “Our intelligence tells us that you are the best the Red Room had to offer. The most fine-tuned weapon a soldier can ask for in defence of his country.”


He had guessed that they did not work for the Red Room anymore. He had guessed that he no longer worked for the Motherland. Telling—though perhaps not so strange, that the work stays the same.


Pierce leans forward. “Why is Natasha Romanoff not dead?”




He does not go to New York.


He takes a cab to the airport, rides 26 miles in a confined space in silence. The cab driver is a man with a pot belly, and he is balding. In the backseat, he watches the man from under the brim of his baseball cap, catalogues the beat of his heart from the veins in his wrist. In the rear view mirror, he watches the man’s eyes dart, nervous, to where he is sitting silent and still in the back seat.


“So, you takin’ a holiday?”


His mouth is dry. He thinks: there is a safe house in Moscow. There is a left over bunker in Kiev. There is a room in St Petersburg with a file, and that file has a list inside it, of names, perhaps, or of cities. There is a ledger, somewhere, with his name on it. Inside the letters will be inked in black into white paper, though it might as well be red. There will be names. There will be ages. There will be methods of kill, accounts of how he slipped into this trench or that building or into that bunker, his own words echoing back at him—target terminated. Target terminated. Target terminated.


Asphyxiated. Bullet to the sternum. Cyanide in drink. Point blank range. The garrotte cut to the bone.


“Just drive.” He says.


At Dulles, he lifts a few more wallets. It’s almost laughably easy, and it’s enough to cobble together a ticket plane ticket for wherever he wants to go. Earlier that week, a gun held to a man’s temple had been enough to get him papers out of the country.


The flight attendant is a pretty girl with long dark hair. She smiles at him. “Where to, sir?”


His passport says that his name is Robert Cameron, born May 13, 1986. He is twenty eight years old. He is an US citizen. He stares at the girl, and his mouth goes dry.


There is a safe house in Moscow. There is a file in St Petersburg. In Kiev, there is a left over office with five lone agents, pouring over data fifteen years old. They have records. They have names.


“Sir?” She is looking at him curiously, and he straightens. He remembers, suddenly, that American airports tend to be jumpy about strange looking men. He makes an effort to smile, he tries to disarm. His mouth curves, in something like muscle memory, not quite a smile—higher on one side than the other; his eyes narrow, and he tilts his head. The girl blushes.


“Kiev.” He says softly.


She nods, flustered, skims over his passport and keys it in. In his pocket, his metal fingers clench.


How many times has he pulled this trick, when there was no other way in? There had to have been instances where the openings were too slim, even for him, when the target was too far even for his rifle, when even he could not get close enough with his knife—


How many times has he done this? How far has it gone? They could have used him in other ways. They could have, they could have—


He spots him out of the corner of his eye.


A flash of gold. The distinctive figure. The distinctive build. The target’s eyes scan the crowd. Sam Wilson, he knows, would be on over-watch. It’s only a matter of time before they spot him. When the girl holds out his ticket, he snatches it out of her hand.


His steps are quick, but not so quick as to draw attention. He pushes through the crowds of people, using his bulk to shoulder his way through. He turns a corner, spots, in the reflective glass of a store, the target’s eyes lighting on him.


The target begins to run.


“Bucky!” The shout comes from behind him. He breaks into a run. His breath is coming ragged in his throat. “Bucky! Bucky!”


At a distance, too far to reach, he turns around.


The target is staring after him, mouth open, one name repeated over and over. Like a man watching a ship leave the harbour, knowing it may never come back. He thinks, he thinks—


—cold and snow and rising mountains, a hand reaching out for him, the sound of wheels against train tracks, the railing slips, and, and—


The Winter Soldier is hardwired to disappear. He does.




“Romanova.” He says. And then—“Natalia.”


Pierce is watching him. On the table, his index finger taps against the chrome table; once, twice.


The door opens, and the suit from before comes in. In his hand is a file. He hands it to Pierce, and leaves the room.


Pierce is watching him carefully. On the inside of his pale wrist, where he is idly flipping over the file, his heartbeat is escalating. Not much. Maybe two or three beats more per minute. The Winter Soldier raises his gaze to Pierce’s, and says nothing as he slides the file across the desk.


It is the same file that he had been given when briefed, the same file he had committed to memory. Mostafa Shahriari, 47, nuclear scientist. He has information that must die with him. His wife Mahsa Kiya Shahriari, their two children Soraya and Naveed will have to follow. The woman escorting him across international borders—


Pierce taps a finger against the page. There is a picture of the woman, Natalia Alianovna Romanova, she has long red hair and blank eyes. On the top of the file, it says—




Pierce is still watching him. “Her name is not Natalia. Her name is not Romanova. Has not been for some time. I’m curious—where did you get that name from?”


He sits very still. Slowly, he reaches out for the file.


Date of birth: JULY 19, 1984.


His metal fingers still on the page.




This information is wrong.




This information is wrong.




He looks up. The words are on his tongue. This information is wrong. Her name is Natalia Alianovna Romanova, her name is not Natasha Romanoff, and she was born in—


“Where did you get that name from?”


There are blank spots in his mind. He knows this. Every wipe leaves him emptier inside. Every wipe takes away something he cannot name. He wakes up knowing the streets of cities he has never visited, knowing accents of languages he has never learned, knowing blueprints of buildings that should not exist. But there are things that go beyond knowing, and those things he thinks he—he thinks he remem


“I don’t know.” It’s her name. It’s her name.


Pierce leans back. “Why is Natasha Romanoff alive?”


This is a question he knows the answer to. “Use appropriate force.” He replies. “It was not necessary that the woman should die. So I did not see to it.”


There is something settling in his bones, a chill, an unease. It was not necessary that she should die, so he did not see to it. At the last second, he had shifted the rifle, accounted for wind speed and velocity, and pulled the trigger knowing the cartridge would not go through Romanova’s head. He had pulled the trigger knowing she will most likely live.


There is the active pursuit of death, and there is the passive allowance of collateral damage. What he had done, what he did—


His voice is very soft. “Is this a test?”


Was this a test?


As soon as the words come out of his mouth, he knows he made a mistake.


The smallest shift in the way Pierce holds himself. In his ear, the agents in the other room are asking if he needs back up. A dozen men, filing into the adjoining room, guns aimed at him through the mirrored glass, ready to take the shot should he even twitch in the wrong direction.


He is biting down on the inside of his mouth. Something warm, something like salt. He has broken skin.


The Winter Soldier does not make mistakes. The Winter Soldier makes the impossible shot, rigs bombs, smokes men out of their trenches to gut them like animals, the Winter Soldier tosses bodies aside like so much offal. The Winter Soldier does not make mistakes. But here—


“Yes.” Pierce says.


“Natasha Romanoff is not dead because I—” a miniscule pause. Pierce leans forward. “Because the mission did not require her to be dead.”


Pierce stares at him for a moment longer, and stands. He makes his way to the door, opens it wide. A dozen armed men file in. They surround him.


The Winter Soldier does not make mistakes. He has orders, he carries them out, and he spares no one— not women, not children, not old men pissing themselves in fear. He is a gun in a knife fight, he is an army he is an army


“Wipe him.” Pierce says. “Make it hurt. Make it last.”


It is his first wipe since they put him into cryo in 1991. It hurts.


It lasts.






The plane takes off, and the girl at the desk had given him a window seat because he smiled the right way. He looks outside, at the sloping strip of concrete, the lights of Washington D.C. twinkling in the background. He will have to be alert as soon as he lands in Kiev. The target might not be able to obtain a SHIELD quinjet anymore, but the file that listed him as a mission objective also listed Stark, Anthony E. as one of his known acquaintances. He will have to run. He will have to be fast.


“Flying home?”


He jerks up, heart in his throat. He turns, to see an old woman smiling at him from the seat next to him. His heart is hammering in his chest, his breath coming fast. Out of sight, his metal hand clenches hard into the seat under his thigh. He has torn through the material.


A second’s lapse, and his fingers would have torn through the woman’s trachea. Slowly, he pulls his fingers out of the seat, staring at her with wide eyes. She draws back, startled, and avoids his eyes.


He can imagine how he must look to her. His hair pulled back with a broken strip of fabric, still damp from the hurried shower he took at the airport, a week’s worth of beard growth on his face. She shifts in her seat, and she looks—she looks scared.


He clears his throat. His voice comes out hoarse and raw. “I’m sorry, ma’am. I’m not great with flights.”


“Oh!” The old woman says, a smile lighting up her eyes. She leans closer. “The trick is to stay distracted, young man. Are you going to Kiev for business or pleasure?”


There is a moment. Something wry twists his mouth—there is a list. In an underground bunker, there is a list, guarded by five men. On that list are the names of more men. His metal fingers twitch. “Pleasure. I’m visiting family.”


“Oh, so am I!” The woman exclaims. She pulls out her wallet, as old people are wont to do. There is a strip of photographs of a teenage girl and her pre-teen, bucktoothed little brother. He can read the resemblance in the lines of their shoulders, the same hair, the same eyes, a visual similarity that speaks of shared genes. His human hand clenches. He remembers another girl, another boy, a pair of siblings—


“These are my grandchildren. Vira, and Alexei. Vira is turning fifteen this year, she’s top of her class, and Alexei, he…”


His vision is blurring. He is staring at the pictures as he would a brief. There is—there is something burrowing under his skin. Something resurfacing, like a scab in his brain that he can’t stop picking, and there is an orphanage, and a knife, and an order, a pair of siblings, a garrotte in the dark, and the words, the words echoing in his ear—


This is a test. Kill them all.


“I think I need to sleep.” He says. “I’m sorry. I’m tired.”


He doesn’t say another word for the rest of the flight. When the stewardess comes by, and asks him if he wanted the chicken or the beef, he shakes his head no. No. No. This is a test. This is an order. This is a test. Kill them all.




He is the first off the plane when it lands. He speaks Ukrainian without an accent (when did he learn that? When in the past two decades did he learn Ukrainian? How many has he—) and he only has one small duffle bag. Customs does not take long. He leaves the airport. He makes sure to walk, not run.


He dumps the duffle in an alleyway.


There is an apartment, tastefully furnished, three miles away from the city centre. There is a spiral staircase, a large kitchen full of stainless steel and chrome. Three bedrooms, marble tiles. Palatial curtains in pale gold hang from the floor to ceiling windows. He is sitting at the walnut dining table when the door opens.


He listens to the light murmur of words below stairs. Ivan Kovalenko has a smooth, even voice. The kind of voice that makes argument irrational, unnecessary. He is speaking to his housekeeper. Her name is Kalyna, and she is leaving. Ivan Kovalenko does not have a wife. In lieu, he has eight hundred thousand dollars stashed in an off-shore holding account, and he is looking at a lucrative job offer in Moscow. The Winter Soldier does not have his Dragunov with him. In lieu, he has two NR-40s laid out on the dining table, their edges gleaming silver from the streetlight outside. He has taken the liberty of unsheathing them.


Ivan Kovalenko takes the stairs. In 1989, Ivan Kovalenko had been a field agent, and he had taken two bullets to the right thigh that had damaged his hamstring permanently. There is a stilting lurch to his steps as he makes his way up the spiralling stairs, but the Winter Soldier is patient. He can wait.


Ivan Kovalenko’s fingers reach for the light switch, and the Winter Soldier says, quietly, in accentless Russian, “don’t.”


He shifts, so the light could gleam off the star on his shoulder. Kovalenko’s fingers shake, and—


“Your apartment was bugged. I disabled them.” He says. He does not feel mirth; there is a cold stone in his chest, but it is not unpleasant. He feels—he feels fulfilled. At ease. Something tells him that he should smile, and so he does. “Now we can have some privacy.”


“So it’s true.” Kovalenko says. “Hydra—”


He tilts his head, and Kovalenko’s words cut off in his throat. Torture was never his specialty. His handlers preferred to send him after loose ends; he was chosen to snip the thread rather than tie it up. Someone, somewhere, had said he didn’t have the instinct, didn’t know which question to ask. He has never had to ask. A ripped trachea and a pair of dead eyes do not usually make for good conversation.


Next to his knives there is a file that he had found in the safe in the office. Part of a bigger stack of intelligence that Kovalenko thought could be sold, perhaps. He flips it open, now, and slides it across the table to Kovalenko. Natasha Romanoff stares back at Kovalenko, and his knees go weak.


“I was following orders. I was—”


“Sit.” He says. He rolls the word around his mouth. It had been an order. He has never given orders to men in suits before. “Where is mine?”


Kovalenko blinks. “Yours?”


He makes a noise that might have been impatience. “My file. My. File. Where is my file?”


Your name is James Buchanan Barnes. I’ve known you my whole life. Your name is James Buchanan Barnes. I’ve known you my whole life. Your name is James Buchanan—


He picks up the knife without registering the movement, and a fraction of a second later it is embedded in Kovalenko’s wrist, its tip piercing the wood. Kovalenko screams. He twists the knife.


“It was requisitioned!” The words tear out of his throat. “Out of Kiev—my superiors, they—”




“D.C.!” Kovalenko is losing half a pint of blood per minute. The Winter Soldier twists the knife. “D.C.! It went out on request to America—please, I was following orders—”


Years ago, Ivan Kovalenko had handed Alexander Pierce a file; listing mission objective, targets, means of attack. Targets Mostafa Shahriari, Mahsa Kiya Shahriari and their two children Soraya and Naveed were terminated. They never found Mostafa Shahriari’s body, but his wife and two children had a tasteful funeral. On page seven, there is a picture of a woman with red hair and blank eyes, and the file said that her name was Natasha Romanoff, and she was born on July 19, 1984. Ivan Kovalenko had pressed the button for the electroshocks to start. Afterwards, Ivan Kovalenko had woken him up, and handed him a picture of a woman with red hair and blank eyes.


“What is her name?”


He had stared down at the picture.


“Natasha Romanoff.” He had said.


“Good.” Ivan Kovalenko had replied. They do not wake him up again until 2014.


On a cold night in Kiev, Ivan Kovalenko’s hand is pinned to his dining table with the Winter Soldier’s knife, and the Winter Soldier leans forward. Kovalenko has lost almost a whole litre of blood.


“Did I pass the test?” He asks. “It hurt. It lasted. Did I pass the test?”


They find Ivan Kovalenko’s body strung up outside his apartment building the next day, with a ripped trachea and dead eyes. He had not made for very good conversation, and the Winter Soldier had preferred his silence.




There is another body left behind in Moscow, already bagged and analysed and filed by the time the targets catch up. It was an old man this time, nigh on eighty years old, who had overseen the earliest stages of the Winter Soldier’s programming. For the past twenty years he had lived in comfortable retirement. There is nothing in the official records to link him to the wealthy government official who had been so grotesquely displayed in Kiev.


He avoids sleeping. The memory of the cold is still too deeply etched into his bones for him to allow himself hours of unconsciousness. He lifts enough wallets to afford a modest room at the Ritz-Carlton on Tverskaya—there is something familiar about the name, he thinks he recognizes the na—


He pays for two nights. He pays for two nights at the Ritz-Carlton, and his voice shakes when he gives his name. But he gives it. He gives his name—and he might not say James Buchanan Barnes, I’ve known you my whole—but he gives it. It is important that he gives this name, even if it is a fake one.


He takes a bath.


His arm warms in the hot water, and the bubbles make his nose itch; it’s too sweet and too floral, but he likes the heat. It isn’t something he is used to. He is much more familiar with the cold. He doesn’t remember liking anything, before—


That is not true. He likes a job done clean. He had felt a vague, numb satisfaction at the sight and sound of a bullet finding its way neatly to its target, the easy resistance of flesh under his knife, the satisfying crack of bone.


He scrubs away the days of dirt from his skin, washes the blood from under his nails. The old man had begged, had offered him names, and files, and information to make an empty man full. Please don’t kill me. I have grandchildren. I have family.


So did I, the Winter Soldier had thought, before he pulled the trigger.


He does not in fact have many scars. This is strange—he would have expected more, but instead the most residue damage he has is around his left arm, where the metal and its synthetic nerves notch and knit into his skin. He supposes no one in the past seventy years have gotten close enough.


There is an old fashioned razor left in the cabinet under the sink, along with shaving cream. He holds it awkwardly in his hand, thinks that the weight is off for throwing and strange for close quarters. The edge is not sharp, but it is sharp enough. Slowly, he begins to scrape off the hair on his throat.


He does not look like James Buchanan Barnes. He does not have the confrontational eyes that crease into laugh lines at the edges, he does not have the easy set of the shoulders, the faint swagger in his build. He does not look like James Buchanan Barnes. He does not look like the dead man.


But he supposes, as he ties back his hair, that he does not look much like the Winter Soldier either.


Outside, the target is sitting at his open window.




Ivan Kovalenko hands him a picture. It is a redheaded woman, with wide blank eyes, staring into the distance. She is on a busy street, and she is dressed as a civilian; a white button down and a black skirt. Her hair blows in the wind. She is on the phone, mouth curled on a word.


“Who is she?”


He takes the picture. It is still warm, as if it had only just been printed.


There are things beyond what even they are able to wipe. Beyond what the sessions are able to crane lift out of his mind, beyond what they are able to condense and remove. He remembers nothing in clarity—no names, no cities, no exactness to the flow of images. He remembers in waves; he remembers heat, and cold, and the excruciating stillness of stasis. He remembers green leaves, the tropics. He remembers dust and sandstorm, black cloth pulled in front of his face. He remembers a room with the walls painted grey, a circle of dead-eyed girls. He remembers—


“Who is she?”


Ivan Kovalenko hits him across the face. He hardly feels it. He has dug bullets out of his own skin, has been knifed in the gut. He stares down at the picture.


What does the Winter Soldier remember?


“Natasha.” He says. It is a strange name; a strange word. Like a name made out of breaths. “Natasha Romanoff.”




What does the Winter Soldier remember?


In the past two weeks, he has allowed himself six hours sleep every two days. He considers it generous. He wakes up shivering, he wakes up cold, he wakes up and it feels like something is screaming inside of him, like something is trying to claw its way out of his skin, like Bucky Barnes is screaming let me out, let me out—


So the Winter Soldier does not sleep. Bucky Barnes can scream himself hoarse, and it makes no difference. He is still a dead man.


What does the Winter Soldier remember?


The target is staring at him from across the room, mouth open like he wants to call out a dead man’s name. His eyes catch on the scarring on his left shoulder, and he feels it like a physical thing; his skin prickles. The Winter Soldier pulls a shirt over his head, and his voice is very soft.


“You have something of mine.” He says. “I want it back.”


“Buck, I—”


He has him up against the wall, metal hand clutched around his throat before he could blink. Somehow, he thinks Steve Rogers should be smaller. Should be—


He remembers the picture of the thin, asthmatic chest from the Smithsonian. He grits his teeth. I knew him. A starburst of pain, in the back of his skull. That man on the bridge. I knew him. There is an ache beginning, behind his eyes. I knew him. I knew him.


“You have something of mine.” He says. “I want it back.”


The target manages, out of his slowly crushed throat, “Bucky—”


“Bucky is dead.” He says. “James Buchanan Barnes died in 1944 falling out of a train in the Swiss Alps.”


Bucky Barnes was the eldest of four children. He had two sisters and one brother—Rebecca, Ella, and Aaron. His parents are Jonathan and Samantha. He met Steve Rogers in school, when they were both eight years old. After Bucky Barnes’ parents died, he moved in with Steve Rogers. Steve Rogers took art lessons. Bucky Barnes worked at the docks. Bucky Barnes was drafted in 1943. He was sorted into the 107th. In the fall of 1943 his entire unit was captured, and they did horrible, horrible things to Bucky Barnes; he screamed himself hoarse on that bench. On a cold winter in 1944, James Buchanan Barnes fell off the side of a train, arm still outstretched. He screamed as he fell.


Bucky Barnes is still screaming on that bench, he is still screaming, falling off that train. Bucky Barnes, for all intents and purposes, never stopped screaming. He is not Bucky Barnes. He does not scream, and he is not dead.


He is the Winter Soldier, and he has red on his hands, he has slit throats and he has made widows out of women and corpses out of children, he has taken shots at civilians because that was in the mission brief, he had shot a scientist through a woman he knew and he had killed his children and his wife because the thread needed to be tied up, and he should have killed this child. He should have killed him on the causeway, on the hellcarrier, on the riverbank, he should have put his knife in his throat and be done with it—


He is the Winter Soldier and no, it’s not much, it’s not much at all, but it’s better than nothing, it’s better than dead. He is not dead. He’s not. He’s not.


“Bucky Barnes is dead.” He says, and is surprised to find his voice shaking. “Bucky Barnes is dead, and he’s been dead for seventy years. He died at the bottom of the mountain. He died when you let him fall.”


Torture was never his specialty. Someone, somewhere, had said he didn’t have the instinct, didn’t know which question to ask. He thinks now that perhaps they have just never given him the right incentive.


The target deflates. He leans back, and lets the metal hand around his throat tighten. The Winter Soldier has seen this look before, had seen it on his face before he dropped the shield, had seen it through the blood and the grime, and—


“Tell your friend to get off the roof.” He says. “Tell Natasha Romanoff that she has two minutes to leave the hotel. Or I slit your throat right here and now.”


There is silence on the other end.


The target says, very quietly. “Sam. Nat.”


He pulls back. The target nods to himself, on hearing confirmation. And then he takes the comm, drops it on the floor, and crushes it with his foot. There is the tiniest cackle.


“I’m not going to fight you, Buck.” He says. “I’m not going to—I’m not going to let you down again, Bucky.”


He eases back.


“I want my file.” He says instead. “Give me my file.”


The target keeps it on him. He pulls it from behind his back, like a magic trick; a stack of papers in a crumpled manila folder. He drops it on the bed.


His human hand itches. His metal fingers move, infinitesimally, towards the file. He pulls himself back. “I killed them.” He says. “The man in Kiev. The old man here, five streets away.”


The target has tensed. He is looking at him, and he looks sad, and broken, and sadness is so—so useless.


“Buck.” He says.


“He begged for his life.” He carries on. “His wife just died. Cancer. He has two grandchildren, and they visit him on weekends. He begged for his life, and I told him it didn’t make a difference.”


What does the Winter Soldier remember?


He remembers the bit in his mouth, his teeth tearing into the rubber while he screamed. He remembers needles in his arms, in his chest, in his legs, through the delicate skin of his wrists. He remembers screaming himself hoarse on a table, remembers a saw cutting through the rotten flesh on his left arm.


In the fall of 1943, Bucky Barnes’ entire unit was captured. They did horrible things to him. Bucky Barnes screamed himself hoarse on a table, but two weeks later Steve Rogers pulled him off that bench, and reminded him that he was more than his name, more than his rank, more than his serial number, more than the sum of his parts.


What does the Winter Soldier remember?


The Winter Soldier remembers the needles, remembers the pain, remembers the men in the white coats, who ask him over and over—what is your name? I don’t know. What is your name? I don’t know. Who are you? Who are you?


The Winter Soldier remembers a picture, of a blond man with a thin, asthmatic chest, put under his nose by a man in a grey uniform and a red star. Remembers saying, screaming, by the end: I don’t know. Please don’t, please don’t do this, I don’t want to—


The Winter Soldier remembers that no one pulled him off that table.


“I didn’t kill him with the gun.” He says. “A bullet was too good for him. I made him bleed, Steve, I made him hurt. And then I put my gun in his mouth and blew out his brains so no one could see.”


There is a long pause. And then Rogers says, choking, “What did you call me?”






What does the Winter Soldier remember?


It is a hot day in July, and he’s tossed off his shirt and trousers. He’s all but naked, sprawled on the fire exit of their dingy apartment. “This is disgusting.” He whines to Steve. “I’m burning up. I’m dying. I’m meltin’ like that witch from the pictures.”


“You’re disgusting.” Steve says, and he doesn’t even look up from his sketchpad, the bastard. “Put your clothes on and come inside. There could be ladies passing by—”


He cocks an eyebrow, turns sideways to see if that might be true. Steve makes a frustrated sound. “Bucky, for God’s sake—”


“I could charge,” he says, grinning. He stands, comes inside, and flexes his arm. “Prime piece of Brooklyn beef, that’s me. Ten cents I take off my shirt, throw in an extra twenty and I—”


“You’ll never get anywhere by overcharging,” Steve says dryly. The corner of his mouth curves, and he smudges at the page a little. There is a sheen of sweat on his forehead, but he’s still dressed all proper—undershirt and button down and suspenders. Bucky blows a kiss in his direction.


There is a comfortable silence for a while. Bucky sprawls on the hard wooden floor, and closes his eyes, listening to the sound of Steve’s pencil scratching against the paper. Their rent is paid, and they have enough for a decent dinner, and enough left over for popsicles. Life goes on. Life is, for all intents and purposes, good.


It is 1941.


Steve says, quietly. “They’re sayin’ on the radio that we have to go to war soon.”


Bucky’s eyes open. He stares up, at their dirty ceiling. There is mould growing in the corner. “Steve.” He says.


“It ain’t right. It ain’t right what they’re doing in Europe.” Steve’s voice has gone quieter. It always does, right before the—“When it comes, Buck, I’m going to sign up. I’m going to enlist.”


“Like hell you are.” He snaps before he thinks of holding it back. “Like fucking hell you are. We’re gonna ride this one out. We’re gonna keep our heads down and our mouths shut, and let those idiots go off to get their heads blown off. You’re not gonna enlist—”


“I am.”


“There’s plenty of idiots to feed this idiot war. I won’t have you—I won’t let you—”


This is what he knows. Jonathan Barnes died on a training exercise at a military base. Jonathan Barnes died, and they had to have a closed casket funeral. They got the right proceedings, the right escort, and they even did the fancy flag thing over the grave. But Jonathan Barnes is dead, and a hundred thousand other men have left behind the same number of wives and God only knows how many children; they don’t put this in the news reels, and it’s too clunky for the posters. He has a duty to his country, he knows this clear as day, but he is not that duty alone. He has rent to pay and food to buy, and when winter comes he has to hold Steve through the night and make sure they have enough to visit the doctor. He has his duty, but he is not that duty. He is not the sum of his parts. He is not the sum of his parts. He is not the sum of his—




What does the Winter Soldier remember?


“Sergeant Barnes.” It is 1943. He is cold, and filthy, and he should have left this debriefing an hour ago. Colonel Philips stares at him across the table. “Do you remember nothing of what they did to you?”


He grits his teeth. His hand is lying flat on the table, and it feels curiously empty, curiously light; as if it would float upwards if he relaxed. “No.”


That is not true. He remembers needles, he remembers pain. He remembers extreme heat, and then extreme cold, he remembers the German bastard leaning over him, he remembers—God, he remembers Steve—“No. I don’t remember anything.”


“Sergeant Barnes. During the two weeks you were captured, Zola experimented on twelve men. Eleven of them have died. Some lasted hours. Others days. But you were the only one to make it out. Do you know why that is?”


“My inhuman good looks?” He replies. One of them had been in his unit. The guards had dragged him, screaming and kicking and blubbering and pissing himself past their cell. When the gunshots sounded from outside, Bucky had felt relief. “I don’t know what you want me to say. I’m not—I lasted no longer than anyone else. I was only lucky that Ste—Captain America came in time to pull me off that bench.” And then, harsher—“I’m not your second super soldier, if that’s what you’re gettin’ at, Colonel.”


There is a commotion outside. Yelling. He recognizes Steve’s voice, raised and hard: he’s been through too much to sit through your meetings. With all due respect, sir, with all due respect—


His voice cuts, quiet, through Steve’s. “I don’t remember anything. Nothing at all.”


Later, in their tent, Steve says, “it wasn’t right. Keeping you there. Buck, I’m sorry you had to—”


He makes a gesture. Bureaucrats, what are you gonna do? “He was doin’ his job, pal. A man comes out of the room the only survivor, he’s got questions.”


Steve sets his jaw. “All the same. He shouldn’t have, he shouldn’t—” Steve takes a deep breath. “I’m sorry I couldn’t come earlier. I can’t imagine what they’ve—”


“It’s nothing.” He needs to sleep. There is a low curl of irritation, of impatience curling in his stomach, and his hands, out of sight, are shaking. They feel empty. They feel cold. He needs to—“It’s nothing.”


He is not his duty. He is not the sum of his parts. He is not that bench, and he is not those needles, and he is not that cell. He is not the sum of his parts. He is—he is—


He does not mention, not to Philips, not to Carter, not to Stark, and definitely not to Steve—he does not say a word. He does not mention to them that in his last few lucid hours on that table, he could swear that Zola’s English had been perfect, and accentless. He could swear that Zola had not been speaking English at all.


What does the Winter Soldier remember?


What does the Winter Soldier—




Steve Rogers’ voice is shaking. “What did you call me?”




“Как тебя зовут?”


He is lying on a table, and there is pain. There is heat and there is cold, and he is not sure where either is coming from. There are needles in his arms, and there is something squirming beneath his skin, and he has to concentrate very hard just to remember to breathe. He is lying on a table. There is pain.


“Как тебя зовут?”


The man in the white coat presses a button, and the machine whirs. He screams. There is a table. There is pain. There is a table, there is—


“Как тебя зовут?”


I don’t know, he wants to scream. He can feel the aftershocks of the electricity in his jaw, turning his tongue numb. He has lost feeling in the tips of his fingers—his human hand is shaking. His teeth are chattering. He tries to open his mouth, and almost bites his tongue off. He will not beg. He is not a dog, and not a coward. He will not beg. He only has to hold on for a bit longer, and someone will come. Someone tall, taller than he should be, big and smiling; someone will come and pull him off this table. He only needs to hold on, and Ste—


“Как тебя зовут?”


“I don’t know.” He manages to say in between shivers. He is bleeding from his nose, he notes. There is warm liquid coming out of his ears, out of the corner of his eyes, but he doesn’t think he is crying. The blood is already drying on his cheeks, sticky and thick, and there is pain, there is a table, there is pain, and there is a—“I don’t know—I don’t understand—”


The man presses the button again. He arches his back with a bitten-off scream, and then there is a crack; then blinding pain.


What is your name? What is your name?


James Buchanan Barnes. Sergeant. 3-2-5-5-7.


He has cracked his spine; the force of the shock had twisted him unnaturally. The man looks at him with pursed lips, and edges closer. He is still screaming.


“Как тебя зовут?”


“I don’t—please, please, I don’t—”


He is becoming delirious. It has to be so, because he doesn’t recognize the sounds coming out of his own mouth; beneath the ugly keening, beneath the desperate whine of a dying dog, he recognizes that he does not recognize the vowels coming out of his own mouth, but understands his own words none the less. He is begging. He is begging like a dog, like a coward, and there is someone who would be disappointed in him, but he does not remember who, and if he could only stop screaming, and think, and remember, then maybe—


The man steps closer. For the first time, he looks interested. “Как тебя зовут?”


“I don’t—” English. The man presses the button again.


James Buchanan Barnes. Sergeant. 3-2-5-5-7.


“Как тебя зовут?”


James Buchanan Barnes. Sergeant. 3-2-5-5-


“Как тебя зовут?”


James. Buchanan. Sergeant. James. 3-2-


“Как тебя зовут?”


James Buchanan Barnes. Sergeant. 3—1—no. No. 3—0—? James Buchanan Barnes. Sergeant. 3—


The man in the white coat leans closer. “Как тебя зовут?”


“Я не знаю—” He screams. I don’t know. I don’t know. Please don’t hurt me. Please don’t—“Пожалуйста, не трогайте меня—”


James—my name is—James—3-2-3—Barnes—Sergeant—James—


The man presses the button.




What is your name?


James. James—Buchanan. Barnes. 3-2—


What is your name?




What is your name?


Please don’t hurt me.




Name. Rank. Serial number.


My name is. My name is. My name—is—




The man in the white coat leans forward. “What is your name?”


There is a dull ache in his spine. It is of minimal consequence. It will not hinder his movements and it will not compromise the mission—whatever it might be. It is bearable.


He says, in perfect, accentless Russian: “Codename Winter Soldier.”






There is nothing before, and nothing after. There is the mission, and Steve Rogers—


—says, in a shaking voice, “What did you call me?”


Steve. Steve Rogers. You were born in 1918, and I met you at school. You were getting the shit beaten out of you but you kept standing up. We were eight. I pulled them off of you and your ma invited me in for tea. Your name is Steve Rogers. In 1932 you got sick and I stayed with you for two whole weeks. You told me to leave but I crashed on the side of your bed. Your name is Steve Rogers. In 1937 your ma died and you wouldn’t let my folks drive you home. We moved in together. You got art lessons and a job with the WPA and I got a job at the docks, and we made rent. We were going to get married to sisters, and move in next door to each other, and when you said that girls didn’t come in pairs I laughed at you. Your name is Steve Rogers. Your name is Steve Rogers. In 1943 I left you behind and in 1943 you pulled me off a table. In 1944—


Your name is Steve Rogers. Your name is Steve Rogers. Your name is—


“Bucky,” Steve whispers, stepping forward, arms outstretched. “Bucky. You’re going to be okay. You’re going to be okay, I promise you. If it’s the last thing I do, you’re going to be okay. You’re safe. You’re—”


There is an ache behind his eyes and it is growing, a blinding stabbing in his brain, and he can’t breathe; he can’t breathe, there are clamps around his arms and he can’t breathe, they are going to press the button any moment, they are going to press the button and, and—


“My name is not Bucky,” he snarls.


He throws the knife before he has even registered the movement. Steve Rogers crumples, red spreading across his t-shirt, and by the time Natasha Romanoff and Sam Wilson reach the hotel room, he has already jumped out the window. He is already two blocks away.


In a dank, black alley, he finds that his human hand is shaking. At that last fraction of a second, after his mind gives the signal to throw and before his hand does it, he had shifted his grip, allowed for resistance, triangulated the angle at which to pitch. The blade that should have gone through Steve Roger’s chest goes through his side, and misses any major organs. If he survives the initial blood loss, there is no reason why he should not live.




What is your name?




What is your name?


James. James Bu—


What is your name?


James Buchanan Bar—


What is your name?




There is no clean slate. There is no start over and there is no button, to erase entire years and to wipe the blood off his hands. There is no clean slate. There is no tabula rasa.


Bucky Barnes screamed himself hoarse on that table and screamed falling off that train. He screamed when they programmed him and screamed and screamed until he isn’t Bucky Barnes anymore, not really. He is still screaming, a trapped rat running around a labyrinthine machine, clawing at the doors and running into dead ends. He has been screaming for seventy years.


In 1953, there is an orphanage in Novocherkassk, and he has a knife. There is a programmed order, repeated in his ear. This is a test. This is a test. This is a test. Kill them all.


Codename Winter Soldier, the reports say after the incident, has accepted his orders without question, and shows significant promise in carrying out orders that ordinary men cannot commit to. He has proven himself our most efficient tool. It is for this reason that we recommend promoting Codename Winter Soldier to operational status. Since he passed this test, we are confident that there is nothing else he would not do in service to his country.


How loud did Bucky Barnes scream then, with the blood of children on his hands, a heap of bodies flung haphazardly over each other? When the Winter Soldier taught thirteen year old girls how to break necks and which nerve endings to target to ensure the best lucidity to pain ratio, what did Bucky Barnes do? In 1973, Natalia Alianovna Romanova said to the Winter Soldier: “I want to be like you. I want to be the best.” In 2009, the Winter Soldier strangled a pair of siblings in their beds, and crushed their mother’s trachea. What did Bucky Barnes do, then? How loud did he scream?


Bucky Barnes is dead. The Winter Soldier is a defective tool, and so has been put down.


The Winter Soldier is the one screaming inside now. He is screaming: this is a test. This is a test. This is a test.


There is no clean slate.






There is a small café in a corner of Brooklyn that plays low sweet music, and serves the only good coffee within a two block radius of Steve’s apartment. Every morning, after his run with Sam and after his shower, he orders an Americano and sits in the back booth, pencil gliding idly across the pages of his moleskin.


He tries to draw Peggy sometimes, not as she was but as she is; the light from outside glinting off the grey in her hair, her smile framed by fine lines. He draws Natasha, fallen asleep on the couch during some TV marathon or another, feet tucked under a blanket. He draws Sam, grinning over a cup of coffee, or tense and focused with a console in his hands, playing a video game that Steve still hasn’t figured out how to work.


On the back of the notebook, he has a half-finished drawing of Bucky. Wide set eyes bright and clear under a rakish curl falling across his forehead. When they were young, Bucky had wanted to be a movie star, and kiss Marlene Dietrich. The drawing tapers into nothing; a flick of a curl, a pair of slate blue eyes, and then a white page. Underneath, he has written Bucky and rubbed it out so many times that the mark of his pencil is etched into the page.


The knife wound in his side has healed in record time. Sometimes, at night, he feels the ghost of an ache that disappears in the day.


“Americano for Rogers.” The barista calls, and he sets down the notebook, to get his order. The barista smiles at him, and he does his best to smile back. He takes his coffee, and goes back to his seat.


On the table, his moleskin is open. There is a stretch of silence, and his breath catches in his throat. He feels his eyes prickling, he feels as if he has been kicked in the chest—


Below the pair of laughing eyes, there are five letters, written in block letters.







What is your name?


There is no clean slate, there is no tabular rasa. But he is not his rank and he is not his serial number, he is not Bucky Barnes, and he is not the Winter Soldier.


He is not the sum of his parts.