Glass of milk
Standing in between extinction in the cold
And explosive radiating growth
"Mammal," They Might Be Giants
The concept of “want” is not something the Winter Soldier can grasp.
Not exactly. The wants of others, those he understands. I want you to eliminate the target. I want you to stand down. I want you to await orders. I don’t want you to ask questions. Present him with a want and he will jump to fulfill it like a trained dog, a finely tuned machine.
But machines don’t want things. HYDRA had understood that. Captain America – Steve, the mission, the contradiction who makes him feel things he never wanted to experience and yet can’t let go of, can’t function without now that he’s felt them – doesn’t. He insists that the Winter Soldier – Bucky, your name is Bucky – is a person, and acts as if the Soldier has all the autonomy that accompanies humanity.
What do you want to talk about? I don’t know. Where do you want to go? I don’t know. What do you want to eat? What do you want me to want? It gives him what Steve calls a headache – he hadn’t known there were terms for the pains he felt beyond distractions to be ignored – and he is no closer to understanding what he wants than he is to remembering the life of the man in the museum, and reconciling that person with what he is.
For once, the Winter Soldier can say with certainty, “I don’t want this.”
“Come on, Buck, it’s just for a few days.” There’s brightness in Steve’s voice that the Soldier can’t find in his eyes.
“What does the A stand for?” the Soldier asks, staring at the building. He can’t keep from staring at it. It seems designed to be stared at.
“Asshole,” Steve says under his breath before quickly amending, “Avengers. It means me, Tony, Bruce, Natasha – you remember Natasha?”
He remembers being told that he shot her. It blurs together. He’s shot many people, and save for Steve, none of the memories are distinct.
“It’s a base, of sorts. Or at least that’s what it’s become. Listen, Tony can be a little…abrasive, but he’s a good guy. He’s Howard Stark’s son. Remember Howard? You’ll like him.”
“I don’t like things.” That’s not quite true, not anymore. He’s almost sure he likes Steve. And he likes not going back to HYDRA’s chair.
Steve sighs, head drooping, but his smile is wide and perfect when he looks back up. “Sure you do. You like dancing, you like baseball and those roasted peanuts vendors sell, and trust me, you’re gonna like staying here for a while more than you’d like coming to DC.”
The Soldier has learned, through discarded newspapers he’d scavenged while wandering aimlessly after failing his final mission, the lengths Steve and his companions have gone through to expose HYDRA in addition to taking down their helicarriers. He’s seen on television the redhead he shot, confronted by angry bureaucrats. The only reason Captain America hadn’t been there too was because Steve had vanished to find the Soldier, and now that he has found him, Steve says he has to see what can be salvaged with the government. He says he’s a symbol to America, even today, and people are panicked.
The Soldier does not tell Steve what HYDRA taught him, does not say that the American dream is propaganda and lies pushed onto decadent fools by capitalist dictators. He’s learned to keep such comments to himself, and he’s not sure he remembers what decadent means anymore. At first Steve seemed horrified by the Soldier’s lack of vocabulary, especially his lack of English beyond that related to tactics and missions, but after phone calls to someone named Bruce and the man whose wings the Soldier had broken, the Captain has relaxed. Language, he assures the Soldier, is like muscle memory. It fades when it isn’t flexed, but it can be built up again.
The Soldier might say he’s content with the language he has now, but he doesn’t know how to say it. His emotional vocabulary is missing, a blank corner amidst the many other empty catacombs in his mind. He doesn’t know how to say that either. It seems better if he stays quiet.
Besides, Howard Stark’s son appears capable of doing enough talking for everyone. They have barely stepped out of the elevator and the Soldier is already considering the methods he knows to permanently silence a man. He is partial to tongue-ripping.
“Sure you don’t wanna stay for the night, Rogers? I’ve got extra beds. Or I could fly in an iceberg if that’d be more comfortable for – hey there Soul Surfer, love the craftsmanship. That baby what they gave you back in the forties, or is it an upgrade?” Stark’s eyes are glued to the Soldier’s arm, a look in them like a strange hunger, and the Soldier reminds himself that it is not his mission to kill this man. He has no mission. Perhaps if he did, this would be more tolerable.
“Would you mind if I have JARVIS run some diagnostics, maybe a performance test or two-” Stark is babbling on, but the Soldier ignores him, taking out the phone Steve has given him. He feels a need to consult the Google on what a “soul surfer” is, so at least part of this barrage will make any sense.
The voice sounds as soon as the search engine loads. HELLO, SERGEANT BARNES. MAY I BE OF ASSISTANCE?
The motion he makes is not quite a jump, hands instinctively, immediately moving for the weapons Steve’s taken before forming a defensive stance of their own.
“Hey, at ease, soldier,” Stark says, and grins – grins more – when the man just as instinctively relaxes while Steve retrieves the phone from the floor. “Don’t let JARVIS get to you, he’s not about to go all Space Odyssey – wait, have you seen Space Odyssey? Uh, I, Robot? The Day the Earth Stood Still? He just likes to step in when he senses inferior technology being used to-”
"Where?” is all the Soldier can manage, watching as Steve hovers beside him out of the corner of his eye, seeing the way his hand hovers over the metal shoulder, but doesn’t touch.
“He doesn’t have a physical presence, Bucky,” Steve tries. “He’s a machine.”
The Captain’s face falls again as Stark snorts. “No, Rick Allen, but if I ever give him a body, I’ll be sure to go with L’Oreal model hair. ‘Cause he’s worth it.”
“JARVIS is like Siri,” Steve offers. Siri is the voice on the phone the Soldier does not speak to, because given the choice between speaking and typing, typing is preferable.
Now Stark is pouting. “Vastly superior to Siri, thank you. But then, the elderly tend to be behind the times technologically, so it makes sense that you would-”
“Tony,” Steve says as the Soldier wonders if he can spend the next few days in cryo-freeze. “Who else is here?”
Stark mumbles something about “Capsicles” – capsules? - before calling out “Avengers assemble!” He then loudly sighs when there is no assembly and marches off to drag others into the common area.
“You’ll be fine,” Steve assures the Soldier, and this time, his hand makes contact, a ghost of a touch that the metal barely registers. “And you have the phone. You can text me.”
How texting Steve is going to help anything when it’s the man’s face and voice that awaken things in the Soldier is beyond him, but then Stark is back, making rapid fire introductions, and the Soldier is back to wishing for his own unconsciousness.
There is Natasha, whom he should remember but doesn’t, Thor – “Wait, do you know mythology? Might just be easier to call him Jesus .” “Don’t call him Jesus, Buck.” – who is tall and blond and always smiling, Barton, whom Stark introduces as Robin Hood, and suddenly the Soldier recalls a dark theater, the smell of salt and butter, and the name “Errol Flynn,” and Bruce, who is mercifully quiet. Then Steve is ruffling his hair as if he is a dog and saying goodbye, while Errol Flynn is announcing to no one that he’ll be in the kitchen making cookies, and Stark is hovering with question after question about the arm and quips the Soldier can’t begin to identify.
[text to: Steve Rogers] Are you certain I can’t take my chances being seen with you on Capitol Hill?