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Beneath the Surface

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He’s sitting in a bar when he hears it for the first time.

“Well, she was just seventeen, and you know what I mean. And the way she looked was way beyond compare.”

Or maybe, it’s not for the first time. There’s something familiar about the melody and beat. The former Winter Soldier jumps in his seat as gunshots echo in his head. His heart starts pounding out of his chest as he searches the bar wildly for any sign of a gunfight. Finding none, he forces himself to breathe slowly, trying to ground himself.

He sees his reflection staring back at him, his glass, neon signs, a video poker machine, a sports banner.
He feels his feet on the floor, the air in his nose, the scarred top of the bar, the cool metal plates of his arm.
He hears two women talking excitedly, a new song playing, the clink of change on the countertop.
He smells the stale beer and cigarettes on the guy beside him.
He thought about riding back to Brooklyn in a freezer truck with Steve Rogers.

What was it? He knew it wasn’t as if he’d heard it before, or if he did, he wouldn’t have remembered it.

It happened again the next week. This time, the melody seemed to trigger images of a grassy knoll, and a motorcade.

“It’s not like me to pretend, but I’ll get you, I’ll get you in the end, yes I will…”

Bucky shivered, trying to ignore the memories of indistinct chaos and screams that echoed in his head. The music’s cheerful beat created cacophony with the memories that were stirred up.
“This shouldn’t be happening,” he murmured. It couldn’t be. They wiped his memories after each mission, but for some reason, the music was so bound to them that they triggered those flashes of sights and sounds.
He’d have to ask Sam about that.

“Well, one of the ways to reduce the impact of a trigger is to be exposed to it more,” Sam had told him during group therapy at the VA. “It doesn’t always work, but it can help.”
Bucky nodded, considering it. “Can we change the memories that are connected to a trigger?”
“I don’t know any research off-hand that supports it, but that could help,” Sam said. “Neuroplasticity and all that.”

“Hey, Steve,” Bucky said, as he sat a few weeks later in the same bar. Over the speakers was a familiar song — not the same one as last week, but with similar voices and style. “Do you know this song?”
Steve listened, trying to make out the melody over the noise in the bar. “I mean, it’s after our time, but yeah.”
Bucky let out a snort at that.
“Lately, their stuff seems to bring up…memories. A hill, and a motorcade,” Bucky said carefully. “I don’t like it but exposure can lessen the severity of the memories.”
Steve regarded his best friend, placing a hand on his shoulder.
“Let’s put in another song, then.”

As John Lennon’s raspy voice comes through the speakers, Bucky smiles at Steve’s shoulders bobbing in time to the music.
“Shake it up, baby, now — Twist and shout. Come on, come on, come on, baby, now, come on and work it on out.”
He takes a sip of his beer before joining Steve. This memory would do nicely.