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Red Book

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It is myself I have never met, whose face is pasted on the underside of my mind.

― Sarah Kane, 4.48 Psychosis

 

[2014]

 

‘Подтвердите свои заказы, солдат.’ [‘Confirm your orders, soldier.’]

‘Полученные заказы. готов начать.’ [‘Orders received. Ready to begin.’]

‘Съездить.’ [‘Go.’]

*

The targets split up, drawing fire. The supporting units were down, and no backup would come after them. There wouldn’t be any cover when he was out in the open.

It didn’t matter.

The mission was the only thing that mattered.

*

The street was crowded and full of movement. People ran in all directions, making unnecessary noise. Various fires obscured a lot of his distance vision, but most of the noncombatants were running from the area. The woman followed them.

He knew what to do.

[‘No prisoners. Kill them all by whatever means necessary.’]

He would fail in his mission if she escaped.

He must hunt her down.

When the target leapt onto his back, he was able to get his hand up to protect his neck in time. She wasn’t very strong and went down without effort, but before he could fire, she threw something at his arm which caused it to malfunction. He dimly registered pain through his strained nerves, proof that the device was damaging him. It was easily removed. He still had full range of motion.

*

He shot and wounded the woman, but a different target attacked before he could complete the kill.

This was the one that should be eliminated as quickly as possible. He was more of a threat. No standard weapons, but he had a shield to protect himself from gunfire, and he was strong. He was also fast enough to block the knives.

*

[‘These are your orders:’]

[‘No prisoners. Kill them all.’]

*

His mask was removed during the fight. Remaining unseen was not necessary for the mission, so he made no move to retrieve it.

The target paused. This was not standard behaviour. He still had no weapons besides the shield. Was there another target nearby? A trap?

‘Bucky?’

*

What?

*

‘Who the hell is Bucky?’

The words slipped out without thinking. He froze, wary of his own tongue now that it couldn’t be trusted.

Speaking with targets was not his mission. Bucky was not part of his orders.

*

‘Hey Bucky!’

The target, in civilian clothes.

‘Bucky, come on. There are men laying down their lives.’

He is young. Smaller. Non-threatening.

'Bucky? Oh my God.’

Wind. Fear. Flashes of blue and white.

‘Bucky! Hang on!’

He knew this target.

*

[‘No prisoners. Kill them all.’]

He raised his weapon to fire, but something fast struck him from behind.

When he regained his footing, the targets had regrouped to mount another attack. He could no longer complete the mission successfully with the weapons he possessed.

He retreated, following the pre-planned route back to headquarters. The targets were skilled, and more resources would be required.

He had to report.

*

Why did he keep hearing that voice?

He couldn’t remember.

*

Why?

*

He had to report.

The mission was all that mattered.

*

‘Bucky?’

The Soldier kept going, taking measures to evade pursuit, though he could detect none.

As he ran he mentally reviewed his mission orders, but he could not find any references to Bucky. He could not match it to any information he had been given on the targets.

He tried to think of before. Before the mission.

Pain.

So much pain.

He couldn’t think.

It was -

No.

It was irrelevant.

*

‘Please, Buck. Talk to me.’

That voice again.

‘Stop!’ The Soldier growled as he leapt several stories into a basement from the stairwell.

He didn’t notice that he had spoken, but as he approached the final corner before the bank he dropped his remaining firearm down a drain. It had been crushed between trembling fingers.

*

[‘Kill them all.']

‘Bucky? Bucky! What’s going on?’

*

The mission was a failure.

He had to report.

*

[‘Welcome back, soldier.’]

['Ready to comply.’]

The correct response came to him automatically, as it always did.

[‘Mission Report.’]

‘…I knew him. He was smaller.’

More words, this time forbidden. He began to shake.

[‘Soldier?]

‘That man…he stopped.’ The Soldier shook his head, confused. ‘почему он остановился?’

[‘Soldier, report!’]

This wasn’t part of the mission. There were no instructions for this. This wasn’t allowed.

‘Я не знаю - I don’t know!’

*

The Red Book

 

The red book is a record of death.

The step-by-step instructions on how to kill a man - to methodically break down everything he ever was, and what he believed in.

How to erase life. To remove from a body and mind the very reasons for living.

The death of hope.

Practical, laid out in neat cursive rows.

Such a little thing.

*

Hatch opens
Stark light

the rupture begins

― Sarah Kane, 4.48 Psychosis

 

[1943]

 

When they came for him, Bucky was already too weak to put up much of a fight.

If he had only kept his head down they might not have beaten him so regularly, or at least not taken quite as much time and enjoyment in it.

Then again, his captors could have assumed he liked getting punched. Nothing stopped him from fighting back with words and fists.

Every. Single. Time.

When he regained consciousness yet again, he found he was tied down so tightly that he could only move his neck and head. The lights above were far too bright, and his skull and eyeballs were throbbing with what felt like an awful hangover. He’d had worse, he decided, but not for a while.

He could feel his legs and arms beginning to cramp, complaints at the rough treatment. By twisting his neck at an unnatural angle away from the glare, he could see he was in a rough brick room. Through the copper-blood filter of his busted nose came the sting of strong chemicals. Lots of strange objects lined steel shelves around the walls, and a selection of blades and syringes lay nearby on a tray.

It was a bit too - unfriendly - for your average hospital.

When he concentrated, he could still hear the faint rumbling of the weapons factory. So, he hadn’t gone far then. That was good. He was going to see the guys again soon and they would tell him what a jerk he was, and then they would sit down to work some more on their escape plan.

Not that they had had much of one to begin with, but it was only a matter of time.

His movements must have attracted attention, because not long after he got his bearings a small man entered his field of vision.

Doctor Zola. Bucky labeled him from memory. He had seen him around the factory before. Some fancy scientist, apparently. What did he want? Somehow he doubted it was to give him a booster shot.

‘Soldier, you are awake. This is good. Excellent! How are you feeling?’

Bucky raised an eyebrow and didn’t bother to reply.

Seriously?

The so-called important scientist was clearly an idiot.

‘You have been very troublesome in our factory, yes. But now, we have found a use for you. You will be helping me with my work.’

No chance.

Bucky wouldn’t be helping the bastard with anything. If it wasn’t bad enough being forced to work for the Nazi’s, running around after this guy would be the last straw.

‘Sergeant James Barnes. 32557038.’ His voice was thick and slightly slurred, but he spoke as slowly and clearly as he could.

Let’s see how far he gets with that.

Zola sighed as if he had expected nothing less, but he didn’t seem angry.

‘Sergeant Barnes, I’m afraid I don’t need your name or your number.’

A faint clattering and the sound of footsteps as the scientist moved closer to the gurney.

‘No, I think just this will do nicely.’

Bucky hadn’t time to see the needle before it pierced the crook of his forearm, but a few minutes later his skin ignited and the room vanished in a sea of red screams.

It was only much later that he realised the screams had been his own.

*

‘325…5703…8’

His lips and tongue were cracked, and so dry. It had been a long time since he had been given any water. Every syllable hurt, but it gave him something to focus on beyond the pain.

‘Please don’t tire yourself, Sergeant. There is still so much to be done.’

“Screw…you.’

His voice wasn’t much more than a whisper, now. Stripped bloody. It was satisfying to know it still worked.

‘Come now, there is no need for that. We are all friends here, hmm?’ The doctor paused as if waiting for an answer. ‘There is no one else arriving. It is just you, me, and the technology of the future. We will achieve great things together.’

Bucky gave up trying to understand the words, or care. He couldn’t move a muscle, so he retreated in the only way he had left - curled up deep within himself. A safe place. With his best friend.

*

The apartment was dim, the last few rays of the day making the curtains glow a deep orange. The furniture was worn but well-loved, and so achingly familiar. Bucky could smell the faint echoes of jasmine and floor polish. He was lying on a jumbled pile of cushions on the floor, propped up on one elbow. His favourite wool blanket lay across his legs, and watching him from the nearby bed was -

‘Steve.’

‘Hey, Buck.’

Steve had his sketchbook and pencils on his lap, as usual. His asthma inhaler rested within easy reach on a cabinet. Bucky looked to the right and saw all of his own army gear stacked neatly in a corner. His coat hung on a hook behind the door.

Looks like he had made it home safely after all.

‘You want to sleep?’

Steve gestured to the fading daylight. He didn’t look tired, but Bucky could feel his own body relaxing and he nodded.

‘Sure, it’s getting late.’

Steve smiled, putting the sketchbook gently aside.

‘Alright then.’

Bucky closed his eyes.

‘’Night, Bucky.’

‘Goodnight, Steve.’

He slipped from the soft orange glow into a sweeter darkness.

He didn’t dream.

*

‘A hundred years from now they’ll still be ploughing up skulls. And I seemed to be in that time and looking back. I think I saw our ghosts.’

- Pat Barker, Regeneration

 

[1943]

 

The flames were finally dying out, but Jaques stopped by with a pile of dry branches. He dropped a few onto the fire with a nod to the men around it, before silently moving away to join another group of soldiers by the cliff.

The company had spread themselves out around the edges of a clearing, and several fires glowed faintly, banked with stones. They hadn’t wanted to risk the light at first, until Steve had pointed out that the few enemy survivors would be in no shape to come after them anyway.

He didn’t bother to mention that even if they had, they would have to go through him.

No one argued, and they were soon marginally more comfortable. Steve had also insisted on taking the first watch, and they didn’t fight him on that either. He didn’t know whether to be relieved or concerned. The 107th followed his lead like they would for a real commanding officer, but it all felt surreal, like a waking dream.

It was just the two of them at the main fire pit now. The others were settling down and getting ready to sleep. They still had more than twenty miles to cover before they reached anywhere resembling safety, and Steve was certain there would be enemy squads along the way.

They all needed to rest while they could.

Bucky was sitting next to him on a broken log, his hands clasped between his knees, rifle by his side. He had helped with the camp and the fires, smiled and joked in all the right places, then sat motionless on the log with his head down, speaking to no one.

‘You okay?’

It felt selfish to end their silence, but Steve couldn’t bear to be alone with his worries any longer.

‘Hmm?’

Bucky looked up, his face thin and exhausted. He had dark circles around his eyes, and his skin was too pale, even in the warm light of the fire.

‘You haven’t moved for ten minutes.’

It was timid, more an apology than an accusation, and Bucky just nodded in acknowledgment.

‘Oh, yeah. Sorry.’

His voice was rougher than Steve remembered, and the faint smile didn’t quite touch his eyes the way it should.

‘Am I that hard to look at?’

That wasn’t at all what he had intended to say, but Steve couldn’t deny that the thought had occurred to him more than once. Apparently, he just had to ask.

Bucky jerked upright like a startled rabbit.

‘Jesus, Steve. Is that really what you think?’ Bucky sounded hurt, but also guilty as if he had been caught at something.

‘Well, I don’t know, Buck. You’re acting kinda strange, and now you won’t even look at me.’

Steve hated to hear the frustration in his voice, but he couldn’t help it. He had wanted to see Bucky again so badly, and now his best friend was acting like he would rather be anywhere else.

Bucky coughed, embarrassed. He dragged his fingers through messy hair - an exercise in frustration - then deliberately lifted his head again to look Steve in the eyes. He held the stare for longer than necessary, proving a point.

‘Yeah, well…It’s not you, okay?’ He paused with a sigh, looking around for the words. ‘It’s just…back there.’ He motioned towards the path they had taken. ‘Bad memories, y’know?’

Steve thought back to when he had found Bucky; strapped to a trolley, barely conscious, and surrounded by medical instruments and strange devices. He hadn’t even stopped to think about it - he had been too full of joy and relief to finally see his friend.

Jesus Christ, what had they done to him?

‘What happened? What did they do? Did they hurt you?’

Steve’s words came out tense and angry, but it made Bucky want to smile in spite of himself. It was such a Steve thing to say. If his friend was still trying to fight injustice at every turn, then he hadn’t changed very much at all in the grand scheme of things; and no matter how much he might want to, Bucky couldn’t bring himself to lie to him. Too much lay between them already for things to go unsaid.

‘Yeah… Yeah, they hurt me.’ He admitted, keeping his voice low and directed towards the floor. ‘It was the scientist, Zola. Dunno what he was after.’

‘What did they do?’

‘Hey look, I’m okay.’ Bucky spread his arms to illustrate the lack of obvious injuries. ‘They injected something into me, and shone a light - I don’t know what it was, but it hurt. They only did it a couple times though, then they left me in that room.’ He shrugged. ‘It didn’t do anything. I guess it was supposed to kill me or make me talk, but it didn’t work. I’m good.’

‘Bucky, that’s not…they tortured you!’ Steve tried to keep his voice down, conscious of the groups of men around them. His voice dropped to an angry hiss, and he grabbed Bucky by the shoulders, fingers anxiously digging into flesh.

Bucky flinched and jerked away, and Steve immediately let go, horrified.

‘Oh God, Bucky, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean -’

‘It’s okay Steve, really. I’m okay.’ Bucky picked at his sleeve, adjusting seams, and slowly straightened the lines of his shirt. He deliberately avoided rubbing his shoulders, where he was sure he would soon have spectacular bruises. A short pause, and then he added a murmured ‘Thanks.’

Despite Bucky’s attempt at a smile, he knew his physical condition and his reaction had betrayed him, and he could tell that Steve wasn’t at all convinced.

Bucky held out a hand towards his friend, whose right arm was beginning to tense painfully around his painted shield.

‘Now, I’m not gonna lie -‘ Bucky continued quickly. ‘- I’ll be really happy if I never have to think about that place again - but it’s over now.’ The smile had crept back into his eyes, warm and genuine. ‘We’re out. You got us out, Steve. And yeah, this - ’ he gestured, drawing a circle around Steve with his arm. ‘- well it’s gonna take some getting used to, but it’s good. It’s great.’

‘You really mean that, Buck?’ Steve was trying very hard not to let the relief show, but he had never been able to hide his feelings from his friend and he knew he sounded desperate.

‘Sure. Just ‘cause you gained a hundred pounds of muscle overnight, it don’t make you any less of a punk kid.’ Bucky winked and Steve couldn’t help but laugh. ‘You’re still you.’

‘Very true, and you’ll always be the bigger jerk.’

Their laughter tailed off into a comfortable silence for a while. This time Bucky was the one to break it, his posture slumping slightly.

‘Y’know, in the lab…I- I talked to you.’ He was looking at the floor again, grasping and worrying at his fingers to disguise their tremor. ‘I think - part of me knew you’d come. Hoped you’d come, maybe.’

‘Bucky?’ Steve shuffled closer to him, his voice soft as he strained to hear Bucky’s own quiet words, now barely above a whisper.

‘I wanted to see you again. I thought - ’ He chuckled, the tone bitter. ‘I thought you would need my help, and I wouldn’t be there for you; I felt so bad about it. And then - you wind up saving me instead. It’s crazy.’

‘I missed you too, Bucky.’

Steve reached out to Bucky then stopped short, hesitant. Bucky just looked at him, his face unreadable. Slowly, wordlessly he offered his hands, palm up, giving permission. Steve gently wrapped his hands around Bucky’s upper arms and pulled him to his feet, now very conscious of his increased height and strength. They could meet each other’s eyes naturally, he realised with wonder. He spoke softly into the space between them, that now suddenly felt so very small.

‘When I thought you might be dead… I’ll be honest - I’ve never felt so helpless, not in my whole life. I can’t go through that again… I need you, pal.’

‘You never needed me, Steve. Not really.’ Bucky returned the embrace with the same gentleness, then pulled himself back a little, as if to take in his friend’s changes for the first time. ‘I’ll always worry about you, though.’

‘Even though I can lift a car with one arm?’ Steve grinned, squeezing Bucky just a little harder for a second to prove his point.

‘You’re kidding?’ Bucky was incredulous but Steve just nodded seriously, letting it sink in.

‘That’s amazing.’

“Yeah, I guess it is pretty crazy.’ Steve tried not to think about it too much if he was honest. It usually just made him feel awkward. ‘It doesn’t feel real sometimes, y’know? I’m not sure how far this serum - this stuff even goes.’

‘Well, I know that next time we go out, you’re carrying me home for a change!’ Bucky tapped Steve in the centre of his chest with a hand, covering the star. ‘We’re gonna drink the bars dry to celebrate.’

‘I’ve been told that ‘Captain America’ can’t actually get drunk, so I guess I’m stuck looking after you instead.’ Steve said with a smile.

‘Seriously? Well, that’s a bust.’ Bucky laughed. ‘Wow. Then I guess I don’t envy you at all, Captain.’

‘…You wanna arm wrestle?’

‘Get lost, Rogers.’

*

of course I loved you
you saved my life

I wish you hadn’t
I wish you hadn’t
I wish you’d left me alone

― Sarah Kane, 4.48 Psychosis

 

[1945]

 

He was warm. That was unexpected. He hadn’t been truly warm in weeks.

It took a few seconds, but his brain finally caught up with the wrongness of the situation. The air was unpleasant - thick and humid, and he could taste something awful in the back of his throat. Deep pulses of pain bloomed across his body, but he was almost too exhausted to move. His eyelids felt like lead weights.

Instead of the familiar bustle of the camp, he heard only the bleep and whir of nearby machines. Metal and water echoed in the distance.

What’s going on?

He could sense fluorescent lights above, tickling at his closed eyelids. Reaching to wipe the inevitable stickiness from his eyes gave him a sudden shock of pain and the feeling of a thick leather strap around his wrist. He jerked and shifted his body, only for his left shoulder to shatter in a fresh agony and pin him back to the bed. Groaning, he carefully twisted himself back into his original position and felt the weight of restraints on his legs too. The shoulder hurt too much for him to even consider moving it for a while.

Was he a prisoner again?

You’re a lucky guy, Barnes.

Injured, too.

Well, isn’t that great?

Panic threatened to wash over him as he tested the restraints, but he crushed it before it could take hold. There was no point in losing his mind over this. There were more important things to worry about.

Steve was going to kill him.

Oh God, Steve!

Bucky couldn’t do this to Steve. Not again. He’d made a promise. They were counting on him to help finish the operation. He had to escape, he -

Er ist wach. [‘He’s awake.’]

An unfamiliar voice. Harsh. German.

[‘Get him ready. We start in 10 minutes’]

He forced his eyes open and blinked furiously against the white until a looming shadow resolved itself into a large man, standing by the side of the bed.

[‘Not so pretty now, huh?’]

Bucky couldn’t quite make out a leer on the man’s face, but he would have bet his last dollar that it was there.

So that’s how it’s gonna be? Fine.

‘Sergeant James Barnes. 32557038.’

He needed to buy time, to figure out who these people were and how to escape. Until then he would have to stall as best he could.

He glanced around him. The details of the room were still fuzzy around the edges, but it didn’t take him long to discover that its features were annoyingly familiar. He had been held in a place much like it before, after all. Prison decor wasn’t exactly groundbreaking. The hospital machines were a bonus, but he guessed from experience that they had kept him unconscious for a time and needed to monitor him.

Captured and drugged. Again. Barnes, you really shouldn’t be making a habit of this.

[‘Lost something, Sergeant?’]

Now that his vision was adjusting and he could see more clearly, Bucky really wished he had kept his eyes firmly closed. The guy was just as ugly as his voice had led him to believe.

His bedside companion gestured to Bucky’s painful left shoulder, and it took a good few seconds of staring for him to realise that the offending limb was covered in bandages, and far too short.

No matter which way he looked at it, how many times he blinked it away, it looked wrong.

What the hell? How -

*

A moving train.

Cold metal.

Gunfire, and a bright blue light.

Steve’s shield, light in his hands.

A blast and shock of air and-

Steve. Desperate. Reaching out-

Falling.

Screaming with snow falling into his open eyes.

He was blind when he hit the ground.

*

A slap to his cheek brought him back from the moment of impact.

‘Listen!’ Ugly spoke slowly, gleefully, in English this time. ‘You are with HYDRA now. They won’t find you.’ He was looking intently at Bucky, trying to gauge his reaction.

Bucky didn’t allow himself to flinch, though inside he felt a wave of rising nausea.

More memories poured into him like oil, unwelcome.

*

Trying to peel off his own skin with his fingernails, clawing at the blood that burned him from the inside out.

An awful light that felt like it would burst his eyeballs in their sockets.

Alone.

Restrained.

Helpless.

Pain he had hoped to never feel again.

*

How the hell did I survive?

He should be scattered in pieces across the side of the mountain, but instead, he was back with HYDRA, just without his arm. There wasn’t much left of it, from what little he could make out under the yards of gauze.

He mentally shoved his speculation to the side - There were more important things to worry about. His limb-related questions would have to wait.

You’re still pretty lucky. Right-handed, remember?

‘I hear you are good friends with Captain America. He will be very sorry to hear that you are dead.’

No! He’ll find me!

Bucky glared at Ugly without replying and then turned his face away. He just had to survive, that was all. Steve and the others would get him out. He had done it before.

HYDRA would fall, and Bucky was going to be there to see it.

His resolve didn’t waver, not even when Ugly pulled him roughly off the bed and half-carried him into another room, where he was thrown into a chair and tied down again. His left shoulder was shrieking in pain all the way up to his neck and jaw, and he was too weak to make much of a protest, so he had to settle for being as awkward a dead weight as possible.

The new location was as uninspired as the first. Plain beige walls, bare bulbs and three men sitting in a semicircle. They had a tray of tools between them. About what he expected from HYDRA, really.

Okay Sergeant, here it is. Round two.

He took a deep breath through his teeth, clenching his remaining fist.

Give them nothing.

*

It took them a long time.

*

‘Sergeant Ja- … James Barnes. 32557…038.’

The words were bubbled - bloody. His lips overflowing and swollen. Blood and saliva spilled down his chin whenever he tried to spit, so he lowered his head slowly onto his chest instead, and let out a shaky breath.

That’s better.

It wasn’t.

Now it was a struggle for him to inhale, but it felt like too much effort to move again.

‘You will not leave until you tell us everything you know about Captain America.’

His eyes had drifted closed, but he could picture the thin wooden rods Number One was holding anyway. They were shown to him often enough. At least four were currently hammered under the fingernails of his one good hand. The floor around his chair was getting messy again. There was blood on everyone’s shoes.

‘You heal quickly.’

That was Number Three. His breath smelled of violets.

‘You may be assuming that this is a good thing, and in a way it is. For us.’ He could hear the grin in Three’s oily voice. ‘Worse though over time for you. We don’t have to worry about an early accident.'

Before they have the chance to kill me themselves.

He wouldn’t react. It made no difference. Let them hurt him if they wanted. They had been at it for days and had nothing to show for it so far.

Bucky didn’t plan on sticking around much longer anyway.

He’ll find me.

*

[‘He heals too fast, you idiot...hurting him is not effective!’]

[‘What shall we do? He can’t be...is strong.’]

[‘We haven’t...’]

['His mind isn’t...serum.’]

[‘...more ways...get him to...’]

[‘Take him to room seventeen.’]

[‘Yes, sir.’]

Bucky was still struggling to translate the end of the mumbled conversation when he realised that someone was pulling the rods from his bloody fingertips. He was dragged to his feet and led away in the not-so-gentle grip of Ugly, assisted by a short rat-faced man Bucky had generously dubbed Nasty.

His legs didn’t try very hard to walk at first, so Ugly and Nasty manhandled him out of the room, bouncing him roughly between them as he stumbled. He was forced to open his eyes a little and use his arm for balance when he hit the wall, the torn flesh protesting at every contact with the plaster.

His left stump had felt better for a while, but it was useless as far as arms go. Bucky was equal parts confused and grateful that it had healed in such a short time, but he wasn’t going to go around advertising it to HYDRA. He made sure to always act as injured as possible.

They seemed to enjoy it anyway.

Sick bastards.

Let them think he was helpless and crippled. He was capable of fighting just fine with one arm.

He didn’t let himself linger on the reality that he was hopelessly outnumbered and weaponless, and that there was still no word from Steve and the rest of the squad. He hoped they were safe, that was the important thing.

He could keep them safe from this.

*

White noise.

White light.

He tried squeezing his eyes shut at first, but they simply choked him until he opened them again.

The noise never stopped.

He couldn’t remember the last time he ate, but they restrained him to force water down his throat.

Questions.

So many questions.

He turned away and refused to answer. Clenched his teeth through the punches and screamed inside his head to forget where he was.

Sometimes they injected him with things that made tears pour down his cheeks, or think that there were maggots squirming underneath his skin.

Things crying from inside the walls. Scratching, trying to burrow their way out.

It was hot. They took his clothes away.

He begged for someone to save him from the army of ghosts standing behind his eyes, his body shaking and sweating with terror.

When they finally gave him food he cried with relief, ripping the packets to shreds and eating so fast he made himself sick.

They left him for a long time after that. Alone in the mess and the noise.

Was it days or weeks since he last slept?

Always the same questions:

‘Who are you?’

‘Do you know where you are?’

‘Why are you here?’

He didn’t care anymore.

It was so hard to think.

He told them what they wanted.

‘Thank you, soldier. You’ve been very helpful.’

*

Sometimes he thought saw his Ma. She was worried about him. He reached out to her but grasped empty air.

Then he remembered.

He was waiting for Steve.

Waiting to be saved.

When would Steve come?

Why couldn’t he remember?

He traced cracks in the wall over and over again with thinning fingers.

Where is everyone?

*

‘Captain America is dead. There won’t be a rescue.’

Oh God, no.

*

‘He’s dead. This is your home now.’

‘NO! You’re lying.’

*

He’ll come back.

I know he’ll come to get me out.

*

‘Steve?’

‘Where are you?’

*

‘Are you still alive?’

‘…Steve?’

*

‘Please, Steve.’

‘Please don’t leave me here alone.’

*


He wasn’t sure when they had moved him out of the white room.

The new room was green and damp. Four paces by four paces.

The noise still buzzed in the back of his mind, when he couldn’t focus on the blood rushing in his ears.

They gave him a blanket. The floor was cold.

He had more food. It had no taste, but he didn’t mind.

Maybe they had forgotten him?

He counted the spots of dirt on the ceiling.

He engraved his name and those he loved over and over with his nails, until it took days for the words to fade from his flesh.

No one spoke to him anymore or asked him questions.

If he got angry or made any noise, they tied him down and drugged him once again.

He didn’t like the straps or the needles, so he stayed silent. Waiting.

Steve wasn’t coming back.

He thought of home.

Chapter Text

I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, did you?

- Stephen King, Different Seasons

 

[1929]

 

‘James, how many times do I have to tell you? Pick up your clothes before you leave!’

‘Sorry, Ma.’

Bucky ran back into his room, swerving left around the baseball glove and leaping over a pile of books in the middle of the floor with practiced ease. Spotting the offending laundry, he quickly shoved it into the closet, holding the door shut with a chair when a pant leg threatened to escape.

It would have to do for now.

‘Okay, see you later!’

‘Stay safe, and make sure you get back -’

‘- in time for dinner, yeah I know.’ he finished with a grin.

‘Go on then, and mind what you’re doing! Don’t make your father come out looking for you again.’

‘I won’t, I promise.’ He gave a little salute and sprinted out the back before she chased him for anything else, the door rattling in its hinges a little too hard.

Oops.

He didn’t feel guilty for long. It was summer, and he had all the time in the world. He was going to the park, and maybe the store that had those new baseball cards he wanted. He would have to miss out on a couple movies to afford them, but it would be more than worth it.

Maybe Steve would be in the park today.

He hadn’t seen Steve in a while, and while they did explore outside sometimes, more often than not they hung out at home or sat in the park if Steve was sick. Especially in winter.

Bucky didn’t understand exactly why Steve was always thin and coughing - they said something about ‘asthma’ and a ‘weak constitution’ - but Steve was a great guy, he just needed a hand sometimes.

*

They’d been introduced years earlier when eight-year-old Bucky charged at full speed down an alleyway and tackled David, a stocky boy from four blocks over. He’d been viciously kicking someone lying on the ground, their skinny limbs curled up in a tight ball. Bucky hadn’t a clue what the fight was about, but it didn’t matter. The other kid was hurt - and that was enough.

Bucky was pretty tall and strong for his age, so it was no contest. David was caught completely by surprise and went down like a bag of rocks, landing several feet away with an impressive gash on his forehead. Once he got up and saw Bucky on his feet and still glaring at him, he left the shredded remains of his dignity and ran without looking back.

It was only when Bucky picked the victim up out of the dirt and propped him against a garbage can, that he realised he’d seen him before.

‘You live around the corner from me, next to Mrs Walsh! I’ve seen you in the park with your mom.’

‘Yeah, I’m Steven Rogers.’ panted the tiny kid, his body still shaking with effort as he struggled to breathe. He had scrapes and bruises everywhere, and his clothes would have been smart once upon a time if they weren’t covered in mud.

‘Hey Steven, I’m James Barnes - but everyone calls me Bucky.’ He put his hands on his hips, checking Steven over with a critical eye. ‘You gonna be alright? You look awful.’

‘I’m fine, thanks. and it’s ‘Steve.’’ The boy said with a wheeze. ‘He was gonna steal something from the grocery store, so I stopped him.’ He bent over his knees to try and catch his breath. ‘I told Mr Jefferson, so he waited for me and chased me in here.’

‘Why did you do that?’ Bucky was very confused. ‘You should’ve known he would come after you. He got you pretty good.’

‘Stealing is wrong, Bucky - I couldn’t let him do it - and I’m fine.’ Steve was looking a little better, but his cheeks were pink with anger. He sounded like a much older kid, though Bucky guessed they were roughly the same age.

‘Yeah I know it’s wrong, but you’re gonna get hurt if you keep picking fights, Steve. You’re pretty small.’ Bucky wasn’t sure if Steve was brave or crazy, but either way he must like getting beat up a lot.

‘Doesn’t matter… I had to say something.’ Steve glared at him fiercely, his expression daring Bucky to argue further.

‘Okay, well it’s your funeral.’ Bucky shrugged in surrender and held out a hand, making a decision. ’You wanna split some snacks? I got my allowance.’

‘I dunno…I’m supposed to go straight home.’ Steve sounded uncertain, but he did light up at the mention of snacks. Bucky guessed that Steve didn’t get many opportunities for treats.

‘I’ll get you home after.’ Bucky promised. ‘C’mon.’’

Bucky took Steve’s hand firmly before he had another chance to refuse. Hauling his bewildered companion upright, he slung his arm around Steve’s shoulders and led him back to the store, talking all the while. Steve stumbled alongside him, trying to keep up not only with the fast pace but with the conversation, which was held at about a hundred miles an hour.

When they finally got back to the Rogers apartment, Sarah Rogers looked sick with worry and was horrified at first to see her fragile son covered in mud and bruises. However, she bit her tongue while she listened to Steve’s explanation of events, and when it was obvious he had saved Steve she insisted on inviting Bucky to dinner.

‘Oh no ma’am that’s very kind of you, but I gotta get home. My dad’ll be looking for me. Thanks though. See you around, Steve!’

He paused only just enough time for a brief wave, before sprinting away as fast as he had arrived. He knew he would see Steve again.

*

After a few weeks Bucky worked out how to match Steve’s stride when they went out and remembered where he kept his asthma inhaler and what made him snort milk out of his nose; and while they might get a few scrapes, no one ever hurt Steve badly again when Bucky was around.

Years passed, but Bucky’s most vivid memories of that early time were that they always came home laughing.

*

Bucky was bored. He’d walked for what seemed like miles and got nowhere. The cards were sold out and it was too nice a day for the movies, so he shuffled slowly along, dragging his feet until he got back to the park. It was full of games like usual during summer, but he wasn’t interested. It wasn’t the same on his own.

‘Gotta check on Steve.’ He decided, turning on the spot and marching back towards their neighbourhood. ‘He can’t stay in there all day.’

*

‘I’m sorry Bucky, but he has to stay inside.’ Mrs Rogers stood firm, her arms folded. She stood in the doorway to the apartment, keeping him outside on the steps.

‘Not even for a couple hours? We could just go to the park or something.’

‘He’s sick, Bucky… He’s had a fever, and it’s still not settled.’ Steve’s mom looked worried, and Bucky began to realise that things were perhaps a bit more serious this time. He forced himself to calm down, speak slower.

‘Well, can I see him? We don’t have to go anywhere.’ He wasn’t spending his summer without Steve. The thought was unacceptable.

‘I don’t know… he’s really not up to having visitors at the moment.’

‘I’m not a visitor, Mrs Rogers - I’m his friend. He’s gonna be so miserable if he’s stuck in there by himself. Please, just for a while?’ Bucky turned on his best charming smile. As he hoped, Sarah melted a little.

‘Alright; but just for an hour. And if he gets tired you come straight back out, you hear me?’

‘I promise - I will, thanks!’

He slipped past her and bolted down the hall before she could change her mind, but skidded to a stop before Steve’s room. He didn’t want to be too noisy in case he was actually sleeping.

‘Bucky?’ A weak voice came through the door.

Damn. Too late.

‘It’s me. Can I come in?’ He shuffled his feet, suddenly nervous, though he couldn’t put his finger on why.

‘Y-Yeah.’ Wet coughs could be heard from inside the room, along with the creak of bedsprings. ‘…It’s open.’

Bucky pushed the door gently and it swung inwards. Steve was propped up in bed, his thin frame almost swallowed by what looked like at least a dozen pillows. His eyes were shot with red, and his skin waxy and pale. When he saw Bucky he tried to speak but only wheezed, and tried desperately to reach for a glass of water by the bed. His hand shook and he strained to extend it, face screwed up in frustration.

Bucky rushed to his side, pushing him back gently onto the pillows.

“Here, you jerk. Stop trying to move.’ He picked up the glass and put it to Steve’s lips. ‘Your mom will kill me if you hurt yourself. It took some work to even get in to see you, you know.’

Steve swallowed some water, then coughed again. A horrible choking sound. Bucky held him by the shoulders until he stopped.

‘…Thanks, Buck. I’m glad you’re here.’

‘I dunno if I should be here. You look terrible.’ Bucky took in the rest of the small room, noticing the impressive collection of pills and bottles by the side of the bed, the smell of sickness in the air.

‘Gee, thanks. Some friend you are.’ Steve’s voice was faint but his usual sarcasm was unaffected. ‘I’ll admit it’s not been fun, but I’m getting better.’ He smiled. ‘Should be out dancing again before you know it.’

‘Course you will. You got fifty ladies lined up ‘round the block. Didn’t your Ma tell you?’

‘No,’ Steve gasped, which turned into a breathless laugh. ‘She must’ve forgot.’

‘Well, it’s true.’ Bucky pronounced, face poker-straight. ‘You shouldn’t keep your admirers waiting.’

‘I’ll get right on that, just as soon as I -’ More coughing. ‘- can speak without doing - this.’

‘Yeah, that looks annoying.’ Bucky sat down on the edge of the bed, careful not to dislodge its occupant. ‘You been in here all this time?’

‘Pretty much since I last saw you.’ Steve said with a grimace. ‘It came out of nowhere… They said I was lucky they caught it in time.’

‘No offence Stevie, but I wouldn’t want to be you when you’re unlucky!’

‘Stop making me laugh, Bucky! It hurts!’ Steve jabbed Bucky in the side, but there was no malice in it. Bucky just grinned.

‘Laughter’s supposed to make you feel better.’ He thought for a moment. ‘But maybe if that hurts, we can do something else.’

He pulled out a folded paper from his back pocket.

‘I just picked this up today. You wanna read it?’

Steve sank back deeper into his pillow mountain.

‘I want to, but I think I might be too tired.’

‘Okay, then I’ll read it to you. I’ll even describe the pictures, and you can check ‘em yourself later.’ He unfolded the paper with a flourish, stacking the pages neatly.

‘Thanks, pal.’

‘Okay, here goes, now don’t say I don’t do you any favours.’ Bucky cleared his throat. ‘Let’s see: Post and Gatty end their world record flight…’

Steve smiled and closed his eyes to listen. An hour seemed to them like no time at all.

*

Bucky visited every day for three weeks.

*

the wrenching begins

- Sarah Kane, 4.48 Psychosis

 

[1945]

 

He was losing track of time. Of everything.

Sometimes he thought he knew - that it was a few months since the Three Men and the white room. Then hours later, he was convinced it had been years or even decades. His hair was long and tangled now, so it must have been a while. Did they ever cut it? He wasn’t sure.

Talking to people helped - inside his head of course. Occasionally he was confident enough to whisper.

It bothered him that he was starting to forget their faces.

Jim, Dum Dum, Gabe - They were fading. He could picture them - the Commandos - all standing together, but when he tried to focus on a single feature or the sound of a voice he found only fog.

What was his teacher’s name? Her favourite sweater was yellow, and it made her golden hair shine like she always stood in sunlight.

What was she called?

He knew Mr Jefferson, the gruff old shopkeeper, but did he have one son or two? Bucky was sure he used to play football with him. Or was it them?

It had been too long.

His family was still there, thank God. Smiling, hugging him. They watched him leave for England, handerchiefs at their eyes, trying not to cry.

Had they cried? Had he hugged them and said a proper goodbye?

He hoped so - he really missed them.

Did they think he was dead?

Exercising helped. He did pushups and lunges until his arm trembled and his legs couldn’t support his weight. He told himself it was for when he made his escape.

Steve is dead.

- No. He’ll come back.

Steve is dead.

No one knows where you are. They’ve forgotten you, Bucky.

You’ll die here.

When he wasn’t exercising he slept, the blanket over his face. The room was always dark either way, but he couldn’t bear the thought of being watched.

He didn’t want them to see his nightmares.

*

Please don’t cut me up to find out how I died
I’ll tell you how I died

― Sarah Kane, 4.48 Psychosis

 

[1946]

 

‘Ah, Sergeant Barnes.’

’No.’

It came out as a whispered prayer, a plea. His teeth began to rattle in his head, his whole body shaking violently as it was drowned in memories of fire and light, needles and pain.

Please...no.

‘Do you remember me? I missed you.’

He tried to sit upright, but heavy leather straps across his torso jerked his head back down. His limbs were tied again, and he could see the familiar spotlights in the corners of the room, and the knives. The syringes.

Oh, God.

When had they taken him?

Burning skin.

Screaming red.

He had to get out.

‘Sergeant, don’t upset yourself.’ A hand patted Bucky’s upper chest as he writhed on the bed. ‘We will be able to spend more time together. I did so want to see the results of my work first-hand.’

‘Don’t touch me again, you bastard!’ His voice was rough from lack of use, but he screamed regardless.

He felt the horrible cold push of a hypodermic needle in his neck and tried to jerk away, but someone grabbed the sides of his head and held him still.

‘I’m afraid the procedure has already started.’ Zola hovered over him, a benign and empty expression on his mild features.

‘We are making history.’

*

‘The thoracic nerve will need to be sacrificed…synthetic graft.’

‘When…Serum?’

‘…Improved healing and adaptation, but reinforcement is required…heavier than we expected.’

‘How many ribs?’

‘Radial nerve has recovered nicely. Excellent. Shame about the length, but - ’

‘Disarticulation. The entire shoulder girdle…’

‘Do we have…install the new implants?’

‘All of it today. We have waited long enough.’

‘Set up the infusions…three hours before the next stage.’

*

He didn’t understand the chorus around him.

All he knew was the pain.

The old fire was back, scorching his blood until it felt like he would boil alive. When it finally faded and he was left exhausted with tears drying on his cheeks, he slowly became aware of movement to his left.

There were blades and instruments deep in the ruined stump of his arm, pulling it apart like string. He could see tendons and muscles twitching as they were dragged into the light, tissues pulsing as they were displaced.

He couldn’t scream. His mouth was full of cotton and smoke.

A weight lay on his chest as if a huge beast crouched there, crushing him.

Burning ribs. He couldn’t breathe. Didn’t they know he couldn’t breathe?

Shocks of pain down his left side that made him jerk uncontrollably and hit his head.

His shoulder was heavy. A sharp and stretching pain crawled its way upwards to his neck.

…It didn’t look right. All the parts were in the wrong place.

Why did his left side hurt so much? He couldn’t move.

‘Prepare…cortical incision.’

When he saw the blades coming towards his face, he sighed and closed his eyes.

That’s enough. I’m tired…

He couldn’t feel anything anymore.

*

‘Wake him up.’

I don’t want to wake up.

‘It is complete.’

What do you want?

Everything looks good.’

…What does?

He opened his eyes. His body felt light. There was a dull pain in his left side.

Am I still drugged?

‘Sergeant Barnes, you are to be the new fist of HYDRA.’

He shifted position in the bed and realised that the straps had been removed. He tried to lift his hand, and -

Hands? Two hands?

Flashes of light on silver. His left arm. Too bright under the medical lamps. He could feel pain and metal. His fingers twitched.

Why didn’t he remember?

This wasn’t his. This wasn’t him.

I can’t -

His body tensed, and he heard the whir and grind of machinery.

Let me go!

*

They died quickly.

*

[‘The Soldier does not have a name. Remember that.’]

[‘Such a pity. He is a strong one. I think he will surprise you.’]

['Do as you are told, Doctor. We must complete the procedure.’]

[‘Very well. As you wish.]

*

‘Sergeant, I’m afraid this is ‘goodbye.’ ’

What?

‘We have a new invention, you see - and you will be the first person to try it. Isn’t it wonderful?’

‘…You’re crazy.’ It was barely a whisper, but the doctor heard him and smiled.

‘I really will miss you, Sergeant Barnes. You were so strong.’ Zola sighed. ‘But, I’m afraid that will not be enough.’

A metal cradle hissed into place around his cheeks, blocking his vision. The background electrical hum grew steadily louder, and the metal cage around his body started to vibrate. He could feel the pulses through his back teeth.

As the hum grew to unbearable levels, he began to struggle. Flashes of blue sparked into his left eye, but the cuffs were too tight - they had no give. After a couple of seconds, he heard a mechanical groan and a snap, but it was too late.

‘Wipe everything.’

The world inside his head exploded.

*

Awake.

He was surrounded by people in lab coats. This made him uneasy, but he didn’t know why. They were all staring at him, making notes on charts and murmuring to themselves.

His head hurt.

Oh, his head hurt a lot.

His tongue was bleeding.

What happened? Who are these people?

A flash of masked faces, ice and fire squirming into his veins -

- What? Where am I?

Alone. Afraid.

Falling

Who was he? Why couldn’t he remember his name?

I…I don’t -

‘Put him on ice. We begin the next phase.’

Chapter Text

-‘Look at us. We don't remember, we don't feel, we don't think - at least beyond the confines of what's needed to do the job. By any proper civilised standard (but what does that mean now?) we are objects of horror. But our nerves are completely steady. And we are still alive.’

- Pat Barker, The Ghost Road

 

[1944]

 

Despite their best efforts. the damp got into everything.

Bucky was cleaning his weapon for the second time that day, uncomfortably aware of the fact that he and therefore his gear was soaked through.

The wind always found them, and brought with it the sleet and snow. They had tied down the tents as best they could, but it was dramatic when the ropes eventually gave. In the end, they stuffed what supplies they could in a small cave, and triple-wrapped everything else, resigning themselves to a very unpleasant few days.

Hopefully, they wouldn’t need anything in a hurry.

Steve made sure they had their weapons and ammunition to hand at all times, regardless of the weather. His shield didn’t rust, - somehow - which Bucky had to admit was pretty useful. It had saved them more times than he could remember.

But he couldn’t see a thing because of the snow. Great.

His eyes wandered between the different access points to the camp, searching through a haze of flakes for movement. He was just locking the scope back into place on his rifle when a heavy hand on his shoulder made him jump.

‘Sorry, pal.’ Steve backed up a step, hands raised. ‘Thought you heard me coming.’

‘Watching the trails.’ Bucky shouldered his rifle and checked the points again. ‘No one out there tonight.’

‘Come inside, you’ve been sitting here long enough.’

‘I still have an hour before we switch.’

‘There’s nothing going on. Dum Dum can mange on his own for an hour. Come and get a drink.’

Bucky looked across the camp to where Dum Dum sat at his post. He grinned at Bucky and raised a tin mug to him in a cheerful salute.

‘Get yourself a drink, Barnes! It’s the good stuff!’ The words floated across to him over the wind, and a chorus of agreement came from the tents around him as the rest of the squad indulged.

Sighing, Bucky stood up, rubbing the cramp and chill from his thighs.

‘No wonder he doesn’t look cold.’ He said, glancing around once more for signs of danger.

‘It’ll cheer you up, come on.’ Steve was already tugging Bucky along by the sleeve of his coat, weaving in and out of tents until they came to the largest. Inside, they had cleared space to sit on the floor and Steve pushed Bucky onto a bedroll, checking he had sat down before turning away to pour a dark drink into two mugs.

‘If I’m gonna be honest, I got you to quit early for selfish reasons.’ Steve still didn’t look at Bucky, he was fiddling with a drinks bottle and clanking various objects on his side of the tent.

‘What do you mean?’

‘I wanted to talk to you.’ Steve sighed, his posture reluctant ‘…I - I got a letter from Peggy today.’ He finally turned around, folded papers in one hand and a mug in the other.

‘Oh.’

Bucky didn’t know what to say. Steve’s relationship with Peggy was…uncertain at best. It had been much harder to stay in contact since they had started this push into the mountains, and Bucky couldn’t remember the last time they’d had the resources for personal mail.

Steve passed a mug to Bucky and took the other for himself, his fingers still tracing across the paper in his other hand.

They both took a sip, the liquid burning and good in the cold air.

‘What does she say? Everything alright?’ Bucky tried to keep his voice casual, as a contrast to Steve’s obvious discomfort.

‘Yeah, it’s fine. Jim brought it yesterday with the instructions from HQ. It was tucked between the pages of the supplies list. She knows everyone but me ignores those.’ He smiled at the memory. ‘She says she still wants that dance, and that she…she misses me.’

‘Sounds like you got it, pal. She really cares about you.’

‘Bucky, I don’t think I can!’ Steve snapped, frustrated. ‘Not like this, not…not after everything. I can’t think of dancing or going on dates. It feels wrong when there’s always so much death.’

‘But, you gotta think of it now Steve,’ Bucky said softly ‘‘Cause this is when we need those things. More than ever. You should have something to go back to.’

‘What do you have to go back to, Bucky?’ Steve wished instantly that he could have stopped the words before they left his lips when he saw the look on Bucky’s face. His eyes had gone strangely blank.

‘My folks, I guess.’ Bucky said after a pause, his voice calm and even. ‘They worry about me, y’know? Apart from them, I’m more here than there… I think.’

‘What do you mean?’

Steve really didn’t want to ask, because he was afraid he already knew. He put down the paper and the mug, holding himself at a distance from Bucky. His hands gripped the back of a folding chair too hard, and he heard it crack.

‘It’s like… another life. It doesn’t feel like me anymore, just a dream.’

Bucky’s gaze slipped past Steve to an unknown point in the distance, and Steve knew that he was thinking of his time in Zola’s facility. It crept up on him more often than he would ever admit, but Steve could tell every time. Just like how Bucky always knew when Steve was thinking of his Ma’s death, or any of the other moments in his life he wished he could forget.

‘I get that too, Buck. I think we’ve all seen too much.’

‘Yeah.’ Bucky sighed, shrugging away the last fragments of memory.

‘Doesn’t mean there’s nothing left.’ Steve continued. ‘We’ll all go home together. Once we destroy HYDRA then our work here is done.’

‘I dunno Steve, sometimes it feels like part of me will always be here, like this.’ Bucky had put down his mug. He rested his head on his knees, arms wrapped around his legs. Defensive.

‘Don’t say that!’ Steve felt himself getting agitated. ‘You have people back home who care about you - people here care. We all do. We need you to come home with us.’

‘I don’t have someone like Peggy waiting for me, Steve. The women we left back in Brooklyn…they - they wouldn’t understand. Not like she does. They were so happy and…I don’t know if I can be that again.’

‘Yes, you can.’ Steve snapped, in his best Captain America voice. It worked. Bucky jumped to attention, looking him directly in the eyes for the first time in an age.

‘…How?’

‘We’ll figure it out.’ Steve sat down on the bedroll next to Bucky, pushing his shield behind a table.

‘We’re fighting a global threat with only half a dozen men in two feet of snow, I’m sure we can handle talking to a few women.’ He smiled and got a shard of a smile from Bucky in return.

‘Keep hold of her, Steve.’ Bucky whispered, voice hoarse. ‘She’ll take care of you. I know she loves you.’

‘Don’t be stupid. We’ve never even gone on a date!’

‘I’ll keep you safe, so you can get back to her. She’s special.’

‘You don’t have to worry about me, Buck. You need to think about yourself - think about what you wanna do after we win this war.’

‘I care about us, and getting us out of here alive.’ Bucky looked away. ‘After that… I don’t know how I’m gonna put things together - but I’ll try. If you swear you’ll make it out with me.’

‘Of course, Buck. Together ‘til the end of the line.’

Steve had barely begun to shape the words of their old promise when Bucky joined in with its echo.

‘- end of the line.’

*

‘We're none of us the same!' the boys reply.
‘For George lost both his legs; and Bill's stone blind;
Poor Jim's shot through the lungs and like to die;
And Bert's gone syphilitic: you'll not find
A chap who's served that hasn't found some change.’
And the Bishop said: 'The ways of God are strange!'

- Siegfried Sassoon, ‘They’

 

[2014]

 

‘Barnes. You said he was captured?’

Steve hadn’t heard Natasha come into the room, but then no one ever did. She must have waited until the others went their separate ways after meeting with Fury, then slipped back to find him on his own. She stood in a deceptively relaxed slouch, leaning on a desk, but her eyes were fixed only on him.

He knew why she had come. The dressing on her shoulder was still fresh, and her features pale and tense. Her voice was deadly calm.

‘The 107th were held in a HYDRA weapons facility for several weeks.’ Steve replied, keeping his voice level. ‘Bucky was taken to Zola’s lab after he got injured.’

‘He ever tell you what they did there?’

Steve grimaced and looked away.

‘Just once.’ He muttered. ‘He said they gave him injections. That there was a light - and pain. He wouldn’t talk about it, but I know it still affected him. Sometimes he just went…quiet.’

Natasha nodded as if this was of no surprise to her whatsoever. Maybe it wasn’t. Steve still didn’t know much about her past, but from the few hints she had left over time he guessed it hadn’t been a pleasant one at the hands of the KGB.

He sighed, his head in his hands. ‘I shouldn’t have let him come back out with us when he said he’d join the Commandos. I thought about it a lot… after the Alps. Peggy didn’t agree, she gave me a talking to about it afterwards, actually - said it was his choice to go. That doesn’t change the fact that he was hurt, and not really well enough to be there. And if I’d sent him home he would’ve-’

‘-If you’d sent him back he would be dead now, and you would never have seen him again before you were frozen.’ Natasha cut him off, her tone firm.

‘But, he could’ve had a great life-’

‘-You don’t know that for sure, Steve. You did what he asked you to. He was a soldier - he knew the risks. You should respect that.’

‘Peggy said that, too.’ Steve smiled sadly. ‘Y’know, you both would have made a great team.’

‘Steve, the reason I came to talk to you…’ Natasha looked away for a few seconds, the only visible sign of her discomfort. ‘…I want you to know what you’re getting yourself into.’

‘I need to talk to him, Nat.’

‘He won’t recognise you, Steve. That’s not him.’

‘Don’t be stupid.’ Steve snapped. He was sick of explaining this. ‘It’s definitely him! I know him - We grew up together, for God’s sake.’

‘No Steve, I mean that even if that was the guy you grew up with, he’s not there anymore. There’s nothing left of the person you knew.’

‘What do you mean?’ Steve had a sinking feeling he knew exactly what she meant, but he had to hear it said out loud.

‘I mean that if HYDRA took him - and if they used Soviet brainwashing techniques on him, coupled with HYDRA technology - if they did all that for years, and decades while you were frozen, then the man you knew is dead. His mind is dead - just as if they blew his brains out.’

She sighed, and this time she did give in to her emotions, her body curling up a little in sympathy.

‘I’m sorry, but no one could survive. It’s a living hell. Going through just a few months of the procedures it would take to create someone like the Winter Soldier would destroy a person completely, never mind the years he’s been used by HYDRA since then.’

‘Bucky survived the fall and Zola’s experiments.’ Steve still didn’t want to believe what she was telling him, but the look in her eyes showed that she knew what she was talking about. The fear was real. ‘He’s strong. He made it out of Zola’s lab once, and he still fought.’ He continued, desperate.

‘Your friend has fought more battles than we will ever know.’ Natasha said, her voice soft. ‘Captured twice by HYDRA, held for years - Reprogrammed. Tortured. For him to be alive at all is a miracle, but the parts of him that you cared about have been cut out and burned. He’s a shell.’

‘I thought for a second, on the bridge - I saw something in there. In his eyes.’

‘Steve listen.’ Natasha sounded like a worried parent about to lose her patience. ‘He has no memories, only the knowledge of how to kill. He doesn’t understand things like friendship, or mercy. If he disobeys an order for any reason, they will ‘correct’ him with pain. They’ll have set it up so that he can’t even think about saying ‘no.’’

‘I still can’t believe he’s gone, Nat. I don’t think you can just - remove - what makes up a person. Bucky was my best friend. That means something. It meant something to him as well. He’s still in there, somewhere.’

Natasha suddenly looked tired, all her authority and toughness melted away and she rested her head in her cupped hands. She sighed, defeated.

‘He’s going to try his hardest to kill you.’

‘…Yeah.’

They met each other’s eyes and exchanged a nod, understanding each other perfectly. After a few minutes of silence, Natasha took a deep breath, as if unsure whether she wanted to speak again at all.

‘…You know, If those injections Bucky received from Zola were an early version of the serum…’ Natasha hesitated, thinking carefully. ‘…and they did more work on him when they found him again, he might have an enhanced healing ability like yours.’

‘So what? We already know he must be enhanced in some way.’ Steve was puzzled, wondering where she was going with this.

‘So Steve, if he could heal from a fall like that, there’s a chance he can heal his brain as well. It’s very unlikely, but you could try it. If you can get him to break - or get him away from HYDRA for long enough - his mind might try to repair itself. Of course, that doesn’t take into account the years of conditioning and memory loss, or any one of a thousand other factors, but it’s a possibility.’ She smiled at him. ‘Seeing as how you’re going to run after him regardless, I guess it might be worth a shot.’

‘I- I think it is, yeah.’ Steve grinned, his voice full of new hope. ‘Thanks, Natasha.’

‘You can call on me for your crazy plans anytime, Captain.’ She hopped off the desk and gave him a little wave. ‘You manage to counter even my cynicism. Barnes is lucky to have you as a friend.’

‘I just hope I can help him like he always did for me.’

‘If anyone can make this work it’s you, Cap. Just remember, you’re both soldiers. You know what happened to him in the past. If he’s in there - he’ll need you more than you can imagine.’

‘I’m not losing him again, Nat.’

‘You might need help to stop him, and the others won't be so kind. They haven’t seen what I have. If he hurts them - ’

‘ - I hope it won’t come to that. I’ll try to get him to come back with us, or incapacitate him.’

‘He’ll be using his full strength.’ Natasha subconsciously rested a hand over her abdominal scar. ‘You’ll have to use every trick in the book to beat him. Make sure you have backup.'

‘This is between me and him, Nat. We’re all gonna have to work together to stop the helicarriers, but after that… I- I need to find him. I need to tell him I’m sorry.’

Natasha sighed and pushed her loose hair behind her ears.

‘You’re a stubborn old fool Rogers, but that’s why I believe you might actually do it.’ She paused, tilting her head to the side, then yelled at a section of blank wall directly behind her. ‘Sam, stop trying to listen in! What, are you five?’ There was a faint scuffling from next door, and she smiled. ‘Go on. I think he wants to give you his own pep talk. Keep him busy for me while I get the gear ready?’

‘Sure.’ Steve left the meeting room and went looking for Sam, who was standing nonchalantly by the dam wall outside, trying very hard not to look like he’d just been running.

*

This is it, Bucky.

I hope they’ll understand.

Even if the Winter Soldier is all that’s left…

I can’t walk away again.

*

‘He’s gonna be there, you know.’

‘I know.’

Chapter Text

It was me on that road
But you couldn't see me
Too many lights out
But nowhere near here

It was me on that road
Still you couldn't see me
And then flashlights and explosions

- Röyksopp, What Else Is There?

 

[2014]

 

Awake.

The pain fades.

‘Каков ваш статус, солдат?’ [‘What is your status, Soldier?’]

‘Я готов отвечать.’ [‘Ready to comply.’]

‘Хорошо. Вот ваши заказы.’ [‘Good. Here are your orders:’]

*

[‘Confirm orders.’]

[‘Orders received… The target, do I know him?’]

[‘Enough! Obey.’]

[…’I am ready.’]

*

The targets weren’t there when he arrived. He searched the grounds around the Triskelion, then took position on a rooftop with a clear view of the hangar.

[‘Protect HYDRA assets. Your target is Captain America and his allies. Kill them on sight. Kill anyone who interferes with this mission.’]

After securing the area, he waited. The aircraft launch was expected, but the sudden increase in activity on the ground by the entrance made it difficult to scan for targets. He dropped down closer to the building and heard scattered gunfire from different areas in the complex.

The primary target came into view, heading towards the opening hangar doors.

Another man accompanied him. The target known as Sam Wilson. He was in possession of flight-capable technology. A threat to the HYDRA aircraft.

The primary target had a shield, but no other visible weapons. A blue uniform. He was easily identified.

The white star.

It looked familiar.

*

Punching the shield, the shock travelling through his arm up into his jaw.

*

He rushed to grab the shield from the floor. It was lighter than he expected, the metal freezing cold and perfectly smooth beneath his fingers.

Why was it so cold?

*

His hand covering a white star.

Soft fabric.

Not the shield -

Something else.

‘ - guess I don’t envy you at all, Captain.’

Fire, and warmth.

*

What is this?

*

‘I knew him.’

His mouth shaping unfamiliar words.

Cold eyes staring, searching his face.

‘- Wipe him.’

Darkness.

*

[‘Kill them on sight.’]

It was irrelevant.

He had to complete the mission -

*

Pain.

Flashes behind his eyes.

Knives in his head.

Why?

Why can’t I -

[‘Soldier?’]

He must complete the mission.

[‘Obey! You will carry out your orders.’]

[‘Understood.’]

*

Enough!

*

There was no pain currently.

Once the target was confirmed dead, the mission would be complete.

Remove the shield, and the target had no weapon.

An easy kill.

[‘Protect the assets. Kill the target on sight.’]

He was too far away to catch them on foot.

- The jets.

If the carriers were airborne it was the best strategy.

When he approached the Helipad, the pilots were mobilising. He overheard their conversation - They were traitors. Trying to assist the target. They must be eliminated.

[‘Kill them. Kill anyone who gets in your way.’]

He destroyed the aircraft on the Helipad and killed the pilots. The target and the flying man were the only remaining combatants above ground. A single jet was still operational.

He would find the target and remove the threat to HYDRA, as ordered.

The two men had split up, attacking each aircraft in turn. They would attempt to damage the third as well.

*

Wait.

They will come.

*

When they landed on the third helicarrier, he was ready.

Only one of them could fly. The Soldier knocked the blue-uniformed man over the side. The man with wings tried to attack him but his technology was fragile, and without it, he was no longer a threat.

When he checked the side of the carrier he found the primary target still alive.

He had to kill him.

He could not fail in his mission.

[‘Kill them on sight.’]

The Soldier remembered where they had boarded the other aircraft.

He knew where this man would go.

He would complete his mission.

The mission was the only thing that mattered.

*

The man came to the core room, as expected.

The uniform.

The shield.

Captain America.

The target.

*

[‘Kill them.’]

*

Blue uniform.

Blue eyes.

The shield.

The star.

‘Captain America,' but also something else.

Someone else?

Just out of reach.

*

This was the target. The threat to HYDRA’s property.

He waited for an attack, but there was none.

The target hesitated.

Kill him. Remove the shield. Obey orders. Protect HYDRA.

The target spoke.

'People are gonna die, Buck. I can't let that happen.’

*

Why?

*

‘Please don’t make me do this.’

More words.

The Soldier didn’t understand.

Why did he speak?

*

[‘Silence. Obey!’]

*

The Soldier was ordered to kill, not to speak.

A diversion?

It was irrelevant.

He had to kill this man - Captain America.

If the target did not move, he would fire.

The Soldier waited.

*

The target attacked.

*

He was strong. The Soldier had to deflect the shield with his left arm to avoid damage. He tried to wound the target using knives, but the shield was effective at blocking him. It was made of a metal he could not break.

The target did not take advantage of an opening to strike back. Instead, he ran towards the centre of the chamber and began tampering with a machine.

[‘Protect HYDRA assets.’]

He must kill the target quickly before he could damage the aircraft.

The attacks with the knife were ineffective. He couldn’t get past the man’s guard.

He lunged.

*

Falling.

Where had he seen this man - Captain America?

Had they fought before?

*

I- I remember -

Pain.

A spark of agony.

Nothing beyond the pain.

Can’t think -

Can’t think of before.

It was gone.

Wait -

No.

He must complete the mission.

[‘Kill them on sight.’]

*

The target had a small green card. It was part of the machine in the aircraft. The target was taking risks to retrieve it.

He must prevent any sabotage. HYDRA’s property could not be damaged.

*

When the target launched the shield at him again, the Soldier left it where it fell. The man would be defenceless without it.

He could kill him.

The Soldier’s left arm was stronger.

He buried a knife deep in the man’s shoulder; a non-lethal blow but it slowed him down.

He picked up the card that lay between them.

[‘Protect HYDRA assets.’]

*

The target grabbed him by the throat.

Was that wound ineffective?

The Soldier couldn’t breathe.

*

Alone.

Restrained.

Helpless.

Crushing weight on his chest.

Suffocating.

‘Steve?’

‘…Bucky?’

Strange words in his head.

*

‘Drop it.’

*

The target spoke again.

The Soldier continued to struggle.

Words were meaningless.

He had to complete his mission.

*

‘Let me go!’

He had to escape.

Had to breathe again.

*

‘Drop it!’

*

He fought, but this man - Captain America - just tightened his grip.

The Soldier heard a snap and his right arm gave, the elbow shattered.

Pain.

He screamed.

*

Straps across his limbs, holding him down.

Fire in his left side.

Whispering voices.

He’s not coming back.

He’s dead.

Steve is dead!

A blue uniform.

A white star.

A smile.

*

They were lying on the ground.

The Soldier lost his grip and his left arm was pinned under him. He had no way of landing blows to free himself.

His vision was fading.

Grey crept across his eyes in a slow curtain.

*

I can’t do it.

I can’t -

He focused on the plastic edges of the card in his injured hand; tried to hold on.

His fingers spasmed.

[‘Kill them.’]

The mission was all that mattered.

*

It was dark now.

I’m -

I have to -

Silence.

*

Nothing.

*

Awake.

The pain fading.

His right arm was non-functional. It would need time to recover.

His neck hurt; not a limiting injury.

Left arm intact.

He could carry out his orders.

[‘Kill Captain America and his allies on sight.’]

A noise above.

The target - Captain America - was climbing up to the terminal.

He fired.

*

The target staggered to the railing above.

He was wounded. Bleeding.

[‘Kill them on sight.’]

The Soldier raised his weapon for the last time.

A shockwave knocked him off balance.

Missiles struck the sides of the aircraft all around him.

The walls exploded, and the floor lurched sideways as he tried to aim.

A wave of heat hit him in the face.

He heard the groan of metal too late.

*

You don't have to look back to see those children; part of your mind will see them forever, live with them forever, love with them forever. They are not necessarily the best part of you, but they were once the repository of all you could become.

- Stephen King, IT

 

[1930]

 

‘What’re you sitting there for?’

Bucky made a great show of dusting off the sidewalk with his jacket before he gracelessly fell in a heap beside his friend.

‘I’m drawing the street corner, Bucky. You can see that.’ Steve didn’t look up from his sketchbook, his eyebrows tensed in concentration.

“Yeah, but why?’

Bucky peered around Steve’s shoulder at the neat grey copy of the street, stonework and glass just beginning to show in the faint lines.

‘You already drew McKenzie’s store last month.’

‘They got a new poster in the window.’ Steve said, pointing with his pencil. ’And the light’s better this time. I can get the details right.’

‘You can do it later, c’mon. I’ve found us an opportunity. You can’t miss it!’

Steve sighed, closing the book and shoving it in a pocket. ‘The last time you said that we had to spend two weeks cleaning Dumont Avenue.’

‘Yeah, but it was worth it!’ Bucky grinned, sensing a victory. ‘I’m serious, this is gonna be great.’

‘What is it?’

‘Trust me.’

*

‘You see? It’s amazing!’

‘Bucky, this is a very bad idea.’

‘Don’t be stupid, this is perfect. We can finally get up there!’

They were standing at the end of the block trying to look casual, but Bucky was fidgeting with excitement and Steve had his arm in a death grip as if he was afraid Bucky would sprint right on up there if he let go.

‘You can’t just climb it!’

‘Sure we can.’

‘I’m not going up there! It’s too dangerous.’

‘You can be the lookout. Come on Steve, we gotta do it. This is our only chance. Think what people will say when they find out we got in!’

‘I dunno Bucky, it’s trespassing.’

‘Not if no one lives there. Now come on! You make sure no one sees anything. We’ll just take a little souvenir.’

Bucky strolled faux-casually across the street, Steve trailing reluctantly after him. They stopped in front of a large abandoned building, the windows and doors boarded shut. A faded sign read ‘Brockway Motors’, but nothing had cruised in or out of those doors for a long time. There were rumours in the neighbourhood that a family dispute had got out of hand, one thing had led to another which in turn led to murder, and there were all sorts of secrets and trophies locked in the back offices for those brave enough to seek them.

Just rumours, of course. The official line was that the owner had had major debts and moved west, but there was no evidence either way. Anyway, where was the excitement in that?

No one had managed to prove anything so far. The upper windows were too high to reach, and there were no handholds or guttering on this side. A few kids had tried to take the boards off over the years, but there were bars across the first-floor windows and door. No one had ever seen beyond a few feet into the dark rooms.

Now, things were different. A large furniture truck was parked outside. It was the first time Steve and Bucky had seen any activity around the building at all, and they wondered if someone had bought it at last.

The most important detail which Steve noticed immediately was that if someone were to climb onto the roof of the truck and reach overhead, they would only be about a foot below the second floor of the building. The windows on the second floor were broken and it would be easy for someone to slip inside.

If someone had bought it, it would only be a matter of time before they cleared out the rooms and any evidence of a scandal was lost. They had to act now.

Steve was nervous. The truck looked even bigger now they were standing right next to it. It was one of those usually used for removals or large purchases, and the roof was slightly sloped, mirroring the cab. Bucky was walking around the truck, measuring distances and handholds.

‘Just think about it Steve - in five minutes we’ll be the first ones in there!’

‘Bucky, we’ll get in trouble.’

‘Not if we don’t get caught! It’s harmless fun.’

‘If you fall - ‘

‘Don’t be stupid. I’ve climbed worse.’

‘Yes, and you nearly broke your neck!’

‘But I didn’t. It was fine, I got it under control.’

‘…I’m not gonna be able to talk you out of this, am I?’

‘Afraid not. I couldn’t live with myself.’

‘Jerk.’ It was said with a fond sigh as Steve left Bucky to his inspection, and walked around to the front of the truck.

He had always known they were going to do it anyway.

Bucky placed a hand on the wall of the truck’s cab, using the gap between the cab and the trailer to brace his legs and walk his way up. Steve paced on the street, looking for anyone coming. It was a sleepy day in a quiet neighbourhood, and it seemed Bucky had chosen his moment well - they wouldn’t be disturbed.

‘Got it!’

Bucky stood on the roof of the truck, knees bent slightly for balance on the uneven surface. He gave Steve a little wave, then stepped carefully across until he could position himself underneath a window.

“Be careful, Buck. It’s farther than it looks.’

‘It looks far enough now.’ Bucky muttered, staring up at the brick ledge on the second floor. Even after stretching his arms to their maximum, he would have to jump a fair way to grab it.

‘You really gonna do it?’

‘Sure, why not?’ Bucky’s casual tone was just as much to convince himself as Steve. It was a big jump, but he’d done it before.

Okay, once. And it was a close thing. But never mind about that.

‘Anyone coming?’

‘Nope. Just me to see you being stupid I’m afraid.’

‘Wonderful. Okay, here goes.’

Bucky braced himself firmly, took a deep breath and leapt.

*

‘Bucky?’

His head hurt, and he was very uncomfortable.

What happened?`

‘Please Buck, talk to me.’

‘…Ow.’

‘You jerk! I was worried.’

He felt hands under his armpits, tugging him upright. When he tried to move everything hurt, but he pushed himself up into a sitting position and tried to open his eyes.

‘My head…What the hell happened?’

‘You fell, Bucky. The ledge was slippery or something. You didn’t hold on.’

‘I didn’t? Well, I gotta try again.’

‘No Buck, you’re hurt!’

‘…It’s not that bad.’ His hesitation and grimace betrayed the lie.

Steve was silent. Bucky opened his eyes, squinting. He was sitting with his back resting on the truck, feet outstretched in the gutter towards the building. Steve was kneeling next to him, face crumpled with concern. Bucky’s pants felt damp and uncomfortable. Dark red.

Oh.

‘You’re bleeding, Bucky!’

‘Yeah, I guess I am.’ Bucky stared at his left leg for a few seconds, confused. He supposed this was what shock felt like, or maybe it really wasn’t all that bad. He couldn’t feel a thing in his thigh, but the blooming red made his stomach twist and skip in ways he disliked.

‘I gotta get you some help.’

‘I’m fine Steve, I’ll walk it.’

‘Don’t be an idiot! Look at the blood. I’ll find someone -’

‘-No! I can do this.’

Bucky tried to stand and got his good leg under him, but he began to shake and ended up in a half-crouch against the truck, holding himself up with his arms and panting like he’d ran a marathon.

Steve just sat on his knees watching him, unimpressed. When it became obvious Bucky wasn’t going anywhere, he sighed and shrugged out of his shirt.

‘What are you doing?’

‘Making a tourniquet; now shut up a minute while I think.’ Steve’s voice took on that commanding tone he used when he was really mad or passionate about something, and for some reason, it always managed to get people to listen when everything else failed. Bucky lowered himself carefully back down to the ground without another word and waited.

Steve used a bolt on the side of the truck to make a hole in the fabric, then tore a wide strip out of the shirt. Bucky winced - Steve’s Ma would not appreciate that. He would have to make it up to her. And Steve, of course. His skinny body was shivering a little already even though it was a warm day.

Bucky’s was shaking himself, teeth chattering at an imagined breeze. He checked his thigh again. The stain wasn’t a whole lot bigger, but he could feel warmth beneath him and he assumed the blood was still going somewhere.

‘Steve… this was a bad idea.’

‘No kidding.’

“I’m sorry, I - ’

‘Don’t worry about it.’ Steve brushed off his attempt at an apology with his usual bluntness. ‘Let’s just get you fixed, okay?’

Bucky realised that for Steve this stuff never really was a problem. Helping people was just what he did. It was an essential part of him.

Steve was busily making more strips out of the ruins of his shirt, tying the ends together and flattening it out on his knees.

‘We have to put this on you, Buck. You gotta stand for a bit.’

‘Okay... Let’s do it.’

Steve stood up, draping the makeshift tourniquet over his neck so it wouldn’t fall in the dirt. He got a shoulder underneath Bucky, and together they staggered upright, Steve bent almost double under his friend’s weight. Once they were more or less steady Bucky quickly felt his way around the back of the truck until he could collapse onto the footplate, holding his busted leg out to the side.

‘Sorry, pal.’

‘Just keep still.’ The authoritative tone was back, and Steve pushed Bucky firmly against the truck doors. Without giving him time to think, Steve pressed the heel of his hand down hard on the origin of the red stain on Bucky’s thigh, making him groan in pain. Then with the other hand, he deftly wound the bandage around and around as tightly as he could.

‘You gotta pull it tight and tie it, Buck. You can do it better than me.’

‘Right, yeah. Sorry.’ Bucky forced himself to stop staring at the blood on his pants, and grit his teeth while he pulled the offered material as hard as he could. It sent stabbing pains down his leg, but he guessed that was better than bleeding out all over the floor. He tied it in what he hoped was a secure knot, then leant back, dizzy.

‘Buck? Stay with me.’

Bucky gasped and jolted up again. He really didn’t feel too good. Things kept fading. Who would have thought a leg would cause so much trouble?

‘I think I gotta lie down now, Steve.’

‘We’re getting out of here first.’ Steve offered his arm. ‘Come on, we’ll go back to the main street and find someone.’

‘We can’t get that far, I -I don’t think my leg’s gonna last that long.’

“Yes, we will. Come on.’ With surprising strength Steve dragged him up by the arm, using his whole weight to lever Bucky into position on his shoulder again.

He couldn’t argue. Steve was just like that sometimes.

*

‘I’m… I’m sorry, Bucky.’

Steve was barely able to string a sentence together, every breath forced through uncooperative lungs. He wheezed and stumbled forward, lowering Bucky roughly to the sidewalk where he fell on his side, panting.

Steve collapsed opposite him, head on his knees. They had made it a few hundred yards, each step an exercise in pain for Bucky and endurance for Steve. Neither had wanted to call it quits until Steve’s legs had given out from under him and he knew he was going to fall.

‘Wasn’t your fault. You should’ve left me and gone back on your own - I’m too heavy.’ Bucky rolled slowly into a seated position, holding his thigh. His face was grey-pale, he was out of breath and his fingers shook, but the walk and discomfort had brought his mind back into focus. He felt more like himself again.

‘You’re bleeding - a lot, and you - you hit your head. I… I’m not leaving you by yourself.’ Even when he could barely breathe or speak, Steve was stubborn.

‘Yeah well, now you’re hurt too.’ Bucky looked away. He had to put aside his guilt. It wouldn’t help.

‘It’s okay. I’m fine, I just -’

‘You gotta get home, Steve. Get your asthma meds.’

‘What about you?’

‘I’ll be fine.’ Bucky sounded more confident than he felt. He knew he was unlikely to make it much farther anytime soon, and they were too far from the main streets to rely on people passing by to help.

‘No, we do this together or not at all. I have an idea.’ Steve sat up suddenly and started rummaging in his pockets.

‘What else can we do?’ Bucky couldn’t see any solution besides splitting up. He couldn’t walk without help, and Steve couldn’t carry his weight any further. If they tried they would probably both end up in the hospital.

Steve was going through his sketchbook, leafing through the pages with increasing excitement.

‘Hang on a minute. I swear, I had it… there!’

‘Steve, what are you doing?’

‘I found it Bucky, our ticket back.’

‘I told you, you can just -’

‘No Buck, we can go back together. The whole way. Look.’

Steve pointed to the open pages in the sketchbook, the delicate shadows of a street and houses.

‘Yeah Steve it looks great, but I don’t -’

‘Bucky,’ Steve cut him off, impatient ‘Look at what’s outside!’

‘Oh. Right!’ It took Bucky a minute, but he finally saw it.

‘You’re a genius!’ Bucky grabbed Steve and crushed him in a hug, forgetting that he was covered in blood and dirt. Steve returned it gently until he needed to breathe, then extracted himself with careful dignity.

‘Well first I have to go and get it, but it’s only round the corner. You gonna be okay for a couple of minutes?’

‘Sure. I’m very comfortable.’ Bucky patted the sidewalk next to him to prove his point, settling his legs down. His thigh was throbbing but he thought the bleeding had slowed, and now he just wanted to sleep.

‘I’ll be right back. Don’t do anything else stupid while I’m gone.’

‘I left all my ‘stupid’ back on top of that truck, believe me.’

‘Thank God for that, I don’t have another spare shirt.’ Steve smiled and pushed himself to his feet. His breathing was wheezy and hitched but he was able to walk at a slow and steady pace towards the intersection.

Bucky watched his back until he vanished around the corner, then closed his eyes.

*

They must have been quite a sight.

Two boys, both covered head to toe in grime and dried blood. The small skinny one shirtless and exhausted, pushing a squeaky old fruit cart on which was precariously balanced his much larger companion, battered and bandaged legs dangling over the front.

People stopped them along the way and asked them if they needed help, but they waved them along. It was all going to be fine. They had managed, together.

Steve’s Ma had just raised her eyebrows at their heavily edited tale and said something about how she wasn’t the least bit surprised, but she would appreciate it if they didn’t try any more crazy stunts in the middle of nowhere in future. She complimented Steve on the neatness of the bandage, which made him stammer a surprised thanks and temporarily forget his anxiety about its past life as a shirt.

Bucky’s family were also unusually calm. He sometimes thought that if it weren’t for his dramatic appearance, maybe they wouldn’t have minded at all. His mom and grandma hugged him and called for someone to stitch his leg, scolding him all the while. His dad just told him not to do it again, which of course, even Bucky could have worked out for himself. His siblings laughed and gave him a hard time about it for weeks, which he had expected. It was a fun story to tell around the dinner table, and he made sure to always give Steve the credit he deserved.

Bucky ended up with two days of bed rest, far too many desserts thanks to his grandma, and a raised scar about three inches across on his left leg that tingled in cold weather.

Brockway Motors was demolished a month later. That was one mystery they didn’t mind leaving unsolved.

Chapter Text

They will love me for that which destroys me.
the sword in my dreams
the dust of my thoughts
the sickness that breeds in the folds of my mind

― Sarah Kane, 4.48 Psychosis

 

[194-?]

 

Awake.

Cold.

There were people in lab coats watching him.

Men dressed all in black pointed guns at his head.

He was strapped down.

Strange machines all over the room hummed with activity.

Tubes snaked out of inflamed flesh on his right arm.

His left arm -

*

What the hell?

Where am I?

*

His left arm was wrong. Metal. Alien.

Was it really his arm?

Why couldn’t he remember what he looked like?

He tried to think, but his mind wouldn’t -

It stopped.

Nothing.

He didn’t know his own name.

He didn’t know why, or how.

All that came to him was the cold, and fear.

*

Had he always been this way?

*

He tried to move. When he concentrated on the metal limb in its restraints, the fist clenched obediently.

The forest of weapons jerked back to attention, and their owners tensed. He looked around, but all he saw was a crowd of blank faces, eyes wide.

They were afraid of him.

*

Why?

*

‘Where - ?’

‘Silence!’

Something hard jammed beneath his ribs and a shock sent his muscles into spasm. He screamed, his body twisting against the restraints. It was only for a few seconds, but it left him gasping and dripping with sweat.

‘Do not speak again unless you are told to.’ He could tell that the man wasn’t American or British, but beyond that he wasn’t sure. European, maybe? How come he knew countries and could recognise accents, but not know where or even who he was?

He was barely able to breathe, but still had to bite his tongue on a sarcastic reply. He didn’t particularly want to be shocked again, and he still didn’t have any idea what was going on. Perhaps if he stayed quiet, he could learn something.

He was pleased to note that little clues were coming to him all the time.

Apparently, whoever he was, he was quite impatient and he spoke English. He had a hunch that he was an American because it lit up something in his thoughts that he couldn’t quite put a finger on.

*

‘Oh, you’re from Paramus now?’

*

Was that his voice? He recognised an American accent, so that was a good start. He didn’t know where ‘Paramus’ was - if it even was in the States - but it was more information than he had had a minute ago.

What happened to my memories?

It was like they were around a corner just out of sight, but he could feel a prickling at the back of his mind when his thoughts turned to certain subjects, as if connections were trying to form.

He tried to stay still and quiet as he watched the people in the room, feeling for those links that would help him understand.

*

A man in a military uniform pulled up a stool to sit in front of him, a thick paper file held open on his lap.

‘I will say these things only once. Nod if you understand.’

He nodded.

‘We are HYDRA. An organisation dedicated to improving the world through order.’ The man paused for dramatic effect. ‘You belong to us now.’

He didn’t react. It just didn’t make sense. HYDRA? He’d never heard of it.

Was he a slave? A prisoner? How did he even get here?

‘Your old life is gone, as I am sure you have noticed.’ The man smiled, showing too many teeth. ‘All those who knew you are dead. You are a soldier of HYDRA: our greatest asset.’

‘But - ’

‘Silence!’

The guard from before shocked him again, for far longer this time. He couldn’t help but cry out as the restraints cut into his flesh and he heard a buzzing whine from his mechanical arm as it jerked and pulled his body to the side, the fingers in constant spasm.

When the pain finally eased, he looked up through streaming eyes to see that the man on the stool was still watching him, face expressionless.

‘Do not speak again without permission, or you will be punished. Nod if you understand.’

He nodded.

‘Any life before this is gone. Do you understand?’

He hesitated, then thought of the shock device and slowly nodded. He would play along. For now.

‘Good. You are HYDRA property now. Do you understand?’

Another nod, though his mind was racing.

*

Who are these people?

Who am I?

How did I get here?

How did they make me forget?

…How do I escape?

*

‘We will begin the training.’ The man turned a page in his file and began reading. ‘You will learn, and you will obey. Any disobedience will be punished. Any resistance will be punished. Unauthorised behaviour of any kind will be punished. Do you understand?’

Training for what?

He nodded his agreement, and two of the armed guards approached to release the restraints. The rest kept their weapons pointed at his head.

‘Any sudden movement, and you will die. Stand up.’

He struggled to his feet. His legs were shaky and weak as if he had been sick for a long time, and he only managed a second or two of balance before he staggered. The guards grabbed hold of his arms and held him between them, dragging him along. He was wearing army fatigues, he noted, but he had no shirt and he could see the ugly scarred join where the metal arm was fused to his torso.

So that’s what it looks like.

Am I a soldier? A prisoner of war?

He was taken a short distance to a damp cell. Bars on one wall, and a bare room with only a table and a single wooden chair. More armed men stood along the bars, pointing their guns into the room. He was dropped down into the chair by his escorts and came face to face with a different man, this one holding a rifle.

The man placed the rifle on the table in front of him.

What is this?

‘Демонтировать. Disassemble this weapon.’

He stared at the rifle, his lips instinctively forming a question. One of the guards took a step forward and he stopped the words just in time, holding up his hands in a quick gesture of apology.

He picked up the weapon. It felt familiar.

He’d used one of these before, he was sure. It felt right. He could do this.

His left arm felt strange but his brain somehow remembered the movements, and he slowly took the rifle apart, placing each piece carefully on the table. No one else moved - just watched, guns swaying slightly as they breathed. If this was a test, he wasn’t sure what it was for.

When he was done he went to rest his hands in his lap, but someone hit him in the side of the head and barked ‘Hands visible!’ so he laid them palms down on the table, trying to keep nervous fingers still. He had noted that the fake arm moved in a similar way to his flesh and blood one, but if he paid it too much attention it started to feel uncomfortable. Something inside the join in his chest was… off.

‘Сооружать. Construct this weapon. Faster.’

Seriously?

He raised an eyebrow, but the man without a pause pulled a pistol from the holster at his hip and pointed it between his eyes.

‘Подчиняться. You will obey, or you will die.’

He felt the muzzle of another weapon on the back of his neck.

He closed his eyes briefly and nodded, reaching out a hand for the rifle.

*

‘Снова. Again.’

His fingers trembled with exhaustion, even his metal hand failing under the strain. It felt like it had been days that he had been kept in the small room, endlessly repeating movements and following various commands. It had taken a long time, but he had eventually started to tire.

It made no difference.

‘Зарядить оружие!’

He took a deep breath and fumbled the unfamiliar rounds into the rifle, using his left arm to hold it steady.

A shock to his abdomen left him doubled over the table. He only just had the presence of mind to keep hold of the gun. They didn’t like it if he dropped anything without permission.

‘Медленный. Too slow. Снова!’

He pulled himself upright and tried again, the movements powered solely by adrenaline. He couldn’t keep this up forever. He hadn’t had any food or water. What would they do if he failed?

He didn’t want to think about it.

Couldn’t think about it.

Load the weapon.

Clear the rounds.

Do it again.

Try to survive.

‘Снова, солдат.’

Just breathe.

Survive.

*

He didn’t remember falling asleep, but he guessed it had been at least a few days since he had first awoken.

He was in a tiny cell. No windows. The steel door more than a foot thick.

They weren’t taking any chances.

He’d noticed his metal arm was very strong.

Had he always been this way?

He couldn’t remember.

They spoke to him often, but they didn’t mention before.

*

‘You are an instrument of HYDRA, soldier.’

‘You will complete the tasks we assign you. Nothing more.’

‘Your only value is in your flesh and your obedience.’

*

They gave him food. It was never enough.

He stopped feeling hungry after a while.

*

He thought they drugged him.

Sometimes he woke in his cell with tubes trailing from his arm and the hollow in his throat.

He couldn’t remember much of the drills that followed.

His mind filled with white light and flickering shadows.

*

‘Наблюдать.’

He copied the man in front of him, his hands following the complex pattern as he wove around the target with a blade.

‘Нападать.’

He hesitated.

*

Where am I?

I shouldn’t be here.

I thought I was -

*

Pain.

They liked to shock him where metal met flesh, to disable his arm and cause the grafted nerves to scream.

He obeyed.

*

Sometimes he thought he saw a hand reaching for him.

Blue on white.

*

A smile.

Warmth.

Soft fabric.

*

‘James.’

‘Bucky?’

*

He had to escape.

They were training him for combat.

They wanted him to kill.

He had to escape.

*

‘Bucky!’

He found fragments of before.

A friend.

A voice.

‘Steve.’

Steve was counting on him

They had to stop HYDRA.

He had to fight.

Had to -

*

[‘He’s not co-operating.’]

[‘Has the procedure failed?’]

[‘No, but his physiology means that it will need to be done frequently.’]

[‘What about the training?’]

[‘That will stick. The implants are designed to respond to the training.’]

[‘Then wipe him.’]

*

‘Солдат?’ [‘Soldier?’]

‘Я готов отвечать.’ [‘Ready to comply.’]

He knew what to say, but his head hurt.

What happened?

People in lab coats watched.

Guns in his face.

‘Подчиняться. You will obey.’

Pain.

He didn’t know what else to do.

*

‘You are HYDRA property, soldier.’

‘You will obey orders.’

‘Any resistance will be punished. Do you understand?’

*

[‘He is strong.’]

[‘He will break. It is only a matter of degree. Increase the regimen.’]

[‘Understood.’]

*

He couldn’t think.

The room was too bright.

Noises too loud.

He was shackled to the wall, hands high above his head, feet barely touching the floor. His arms felt like they would be pulled from their sockets. It was hard to breathe.

Men stood in front of him, impassive.

They pointed more weapons at him. He didn’t care.

He just wanted to know why.

They wanted him to repeat. To learn.

So many words.

He breathed the strange syllables over and over, his voice cracking when he made an error and the punishments hit.

He didn’t make mistakes very often.

His mind held, and he remembered.

Then his thoughts drifted to other things.

*

A warm room.

A draughty tent.

A school.

A park.

Familiar faces.

*

He wished he could remember their names.

*

Alone in his cell, he curled up on the narrow cot and tried to see them.

Was any of it real?

Flashes of photographs taken by someone else.

*

Had he had a life before?

Sometimes he thought he’d been born with two real limbs, like the other people in the facility.

He imagined he could feel soft feathers running through his fingers.

It must have been a very long time ago if it was true.

Matching hands performing the delicate movements to tie his shoelaces.

Was he going mad?

*

‘The training has stalled. The drugs are losing their potency.’

‘We have made good progress, but each time he remembers. We can’t stop now; we are almost at the next stage. Wipe him again.’

‘But, sir - ’

‘Do it. His body will follow orders even if his brain is damaged.’

‘Yes, sir.’

*

‘Солдат?’

‘Я готов отвечать.’

He had to obey.

Any resistance would be punished.

*

They hurt him anyway.

*

Guns.

Knives.

Words.

He learned them all.

When he found the faces, the places that caused him to stop, to question - they took them away and replaced them instead with pain.

*

Sometimes, it came back all at once.

He lay on his cot, gasping with tears rolling down his cheeks.

He remembered.

For the last few hours, he’d fought against countless heavily armed opponents. He neutralised them all, as ordered.

Before that, they drilled him in knife combat and struck him in the back if his posture wavered.

For days he trained, but now he knew.

He was a prisoner.

*

Soldiers.

Friends.

A campfire.

Warm hands on his arms - his living arms.

*

Smiling parents, waiting in a doorway.

Home. Patterned cushions. A nick in the wood of the kitchen table.

Steve. Skinny and frail.

Now tall and strong, but still just the same.

Captain America.

*

Steve is dead.

He was alone.

A prisoner of HYDRA.

*

They changed him.

Made him forget.

They wanted him to kill.

He had to escape.

*

The next time they opened the cell door, he fought.

He was stronger than he remembered.

It took six stun batons to get him to lose consciousness.

*

‘You are a soldier of HYDRA.

‘You will obey orders, or you will die.’

‘Покоряться!’ [‘Submit!’]

Pain.

Please, stop.

Who am I?

*

His name was James - No, Bucky.

He wasn’t sure.

There were lots of images in his head.

Voices when he tried to sleep.

He was alone.

The cell he was locked in had no way out.

He tried forcing the door but it was too thick, the hinges on the wrong side. When they heard the noise they came back and chained him to the wall, burned him with metal instruments and left him hanging there for what felt like weeks.

He tried not to make a sound - he had to be silent.

It took a long time before the wounds healed and they cut him down to lie on the floor.

I’m… Bucky?

He was a prisoner of HYDRA.

He had to escape.

*

‘What happened, Buck?’

He looked up from the cot towards the door.

The voices were more frequent now.

He was remembering.

Fragments of a life.

His life.

‘End of the line, pal.’

I have to go back.

HYDRA wanted him to kill.

They made him forget, over and over.

He couldn’t stop them. Couldn’t stop the pain.

I have to get out.

*

[‘What happened?’]

[‘The asset tried to remove the prosthetic. Tore off most of the outer casing. We had to subdue and sedate it again. It nearly damaged the internal mechanism.’]

[‘Wipe him again. We are nearly ready for the final stages.’]

[‘Yes, sir.]

*

Awake.

Afraid.

Where am I?

Why can’t I remember?

‘Солдат?’

‘Я готов отвечать.’

Somehow he knew what to say.

[‘Begin the procedures. Are the implants fully functional?’]

[‘Yes, sir.’]

A man in a doctor’s coat came into view, a book and pen in his hand.

‘Обращать внимание, солдат.’ [‘Pay attention, soldier.’]

‘Я готов’ [‘I’m ready.’]

What’s going on?

Ready for what?

['Activate the implants, and keep an eye on the frequency.’]

[‘Yes, sir.’]

Throbbing pulses and a high pitched whine grew behind his eyes.

‘Желание. Вы будете подчиняться.’ [‘Longing. You will obey.’]

Pain.

His head felt like it would burst. His whole body jerked and thrashed around the straps holding him down. He bit through his lips and gouged chunks from his right hand with his nails. The metal digits on his left hand scrabbled and screeched helplessly against the chair, unable to grip the smooth surface.

Something was drilling into his skull.

He screamed and screamed, even though he knew it was forbidden. He couldn’t control the cascade.

*

‘James, come here.’

‘Mom, dad - you know I love you.’

‘- Bucky, you’re such a jerk!’

‘Don’t tell your mother.’

‘This isn’t a back alley, Steve - It’s war.’

‘I have to fight!’

‘ - I wanted to see you again.’

‘Part of me will always be here, like this.’

*

The pain faded.

The faces were always there, watching him.

Voices silent.

He had to obey.

[‘Again. We must make sure it sticks.’]

‘Желание.’

He didn’t know anything after that.

*

‘Товарный вагон.’ [‘Freight car.’]

Each time, the words.

He hung limply in the restraints, too weak to even lift his head.

There’s something about these words.

Fire, and chaos.

He couldn’t stop the inevitable agony, or the torrent splitting his mind from the inside out.

He had to obey.

If he obeyed, the pain would end.

‘Я готов.’ [‘I’m ready.’]

Please, stop this!

*

[‘The links are formed. It seems the implants have worked as intended.']

[‘Good. Proceed with the tests.’]

 

*

Awake.

White light.

Everything hurt.

‘Желание.’ [‘Longing’]

Obey.

‘Ржавый.’ [‘Rusted’]

Follow orders.

‘Семнадцать.' [‘Seventeen’]

Do not question.

‘Рассвет.' [‘Daybreak’]

Do not speak.

‘Печь.' [‘Furnace’]

Do not resist.

‘Девять.’ [‘Nine’]

Complete your mission.

‘Добросердечный.’ [‘Benign’]

Serve HYDRA.

‘Возвращение на родину.’ [‘Homecoming’]

Protect HYDRA assets.

‘Один.’ [‘One’]

You are a soldier.

Товарный вагон.’ [‘Freight Car’]

Your life belongs to HYDRA.

*

Awake.

People around him.

*

Follow orders.

Serve HYDRA.

Do not resist.

*

‘Солдат?’

‘Я готов отвечать.’

He responded without thinking.

It didn’t matter.

Chapter Text

Road’s end getting nearer
We cover distance, but not together

I am the storm, and I am the wonder
And the flashlights, nightmares
And sudden explosions

- Röyksopp, What Else Is There?

 

[2014]

 

He was here, just as Steve expected.

Hoped.

Feared.

The Winter Soldier - Bucky - hadn’t given them any warning before he attacked. Had Steve simply imagined his earlier hesitation on the street? He was sure something had changed in Bucky’s face before he ran.

If it had, there was no sign of recognition now. They stood facing each other just a few metres apart, but Steve felt every one of the 70 years lost between them. Bucky was too pale, and his eyes were dull and blank, posture tense and aggressive.

Ready to kill.

He’s a HYDRA assassin.

‘There’s nothing left of the man you knew.’

‘He’s a shell.’

It didn’t matter. He had to try.

'People are gonna die, Buck. I can't let that happen.’

He searched Bucky’s face, praying for something - anything - to show through the mask of indifference. Steve had taken his old uniform from the Smithsonian, not only because he could be sure no one had tampered with it, but because he hoped it would help to jog Bucky’s memory. The weight of a shared history lingered in the creases and folds, and it felt comforting and familiar, pulling everything into sharp focus. The bright shade of blue, a message of hope in its time, gave Steve a gut reaction he hadn’t felt in years.

‘It’s kind of growing on me.’

Bucky’s eyes were still empty. He was standing in front of the helicarrier server bank. Steve wasn’t sure how Bucky knew he would come here, but he must have watched Steve and Sam attack the other aircraft and noticed the pattern.

How much does he understand?

Bucky remained motionless, almost unblinking. He had a gun in his right hand, but Steve knew that there would be more. This was only the beginning.

The Winter Soldier was on guard.

Waiting.

Steve tried one last time.

‘Please don’t make me do this.’

No response. His friend was gone, and he was running out of time.

I’m not going be able to kill him. Even if he doesn’t know me, I still can’t do it. I’m sorry, Natasha.

Steve attacked.

*

It was just like last time.

Steve was trying his hardest not to hurt Bucky, but the Winter Soldier apparently had no reason to hold back. He felt a bullet graze his side. Luckily it wasn’t deep.

Natasha was right.

His shield could deflect the weapons, but that metal arm - the mechanical buzzing always in the back of his mind - it was very strong.

What happened, Buck? What have they done to you?

He barely had time to think, concentrating on blocking increasingly vicious blows. Eventually he got in a few good hits of his own and Bucky stumbled, giving Steve a shot at the server core. He fumbled with the blades but Bucky attacked again and he was forced to defend himself. It seemed that Bucky knew what he was trying to do.

Do you care? Did they even explain to you why?

They locked arms, a knife blade just inches from Steve’s face, and he felt building pressure as the noise of the metal arm increased in pitch to almost unbearable levels. He knocked it aside, kicking Bucky away and scrambling back to the core.

How long did he have left?

He couldn’t complete the exchange before he sensed something behind him and brought the shield up just in time. A shock spread through the bones of his arm and ribs, and he realised that Bucky was too strong. He would always recover too quickly for him to act. Steve had to somehow knock him out or stop him a different way.

It seemed that Bucky had noticed their stalemate as well, because after exchanging a few more punches he charged and knocked them both over the railing, away from the core. The server blade landed with them a few feet away, and Steve took the first opportunity to grab it.

I have to get back up there.

Almost as soon as he felt his fingers close around the plastic, Bucky grabbed his arm and knocked it away.

He’s not just trying to kill me, he’s trying to stop me touching the server.

That means he’s not completely mindless! He has a strategy.

Steve knew he had to incapacitate Bucky and get to the server before the carriers were armed, but Bucky was aware of what he was trying to do on some level and would try everything to stop him in return.

Please, God, I don’t want to hurt him.

He hoped with all his heart he wouldn’t have to, as he kicked Bucky off the ledge and followed his old friend and the server card to the lower level.

*

Steve had almost forgotten about it in his race to the server blade, but his shield struck him in the back and he grabbed it and twisted into position just as more bullets flew his way.

Oh great, he found the gun.

Bucky wasn’t phased by the shield, but then again Steve guessed he’d seen it in action often enough at this point. It bounced off the metal arm, and Bucky stalked toward him without pause, burying a knife deep in Steve’s shoulder until he let go of the card.

Something inside tore, and Steve winced, knowing it would need medical attention later. He shoved the pain to the back of his mind, pulling out the knife in one swift movement. He had to go on. He had to stop HYDRA.

Bucky grabbed the card in his living hand and Steve lifted him by the throat, throwing him down into a restraint position, but it wasn’t enough. He pressed deep into the vulnerable tissues in Bucky’s neck, but while a normal person would be screaming and writhing on the floor, Bucky just groaned and fought harder. He was heavy too, like Steve himself.

What have they done to you? Can you even feel pain?

‘Drop it.’ Steve ordered, steeling himself to hold on.

Bucky didn’t reply but redoubled his efforts to escape, lashing out with his free left arm. Steve grimly applied more force to Bucky’s right elbow and tried one last time.

‘Drop it!’

The arm snapped and Bucky screamed, the only truly human sound Steve had heard him make during their fight. Steve winced and grit his teeth.

He does hurt. He can feel pain.

I hurt him.

They were trapped together, limbs flailing. Bucky still wouldn’t let go, and Steve twisted onto his back so he could get his forearm around Bucky’s neck, pressing down on the nerves and airway as best he could. The metal arm thrashed and buzzed, but he waited until it snapped down and pinned it beneath his thigh, where it shuddered helplessly.

Please, forgive me.

He closed his eyes and held on tighter.

Eventually, the Winter Soldier went still, green plastic falling from limp fingers.

Steve grabbed it and ran.

*

The first bullet struck him in the thigh.

'Thirty seconds, Cap.’

‘Stand by.’

The second found his back.

Bucky always was a good shot.

He could feel the discrete lumps of metal, displacing flesh and making themselves at home in pockets of blood.

Steve’s leg wasn’t seriously injured, but the back shot sent him to his knees, and he knew it was bad, even before he saw the spreading red stain on the front of his suit.

Bucky was hurt too - his broken arm held close to his side. Unfortunately, he only needed one arm to fire and his left was apparently working just fine.

Steve had to do it.

There was no time.

Thirty seconds.

Less than that, now.

He had to move.

*

‘Charlie, lock.’

He collapsed back to the floor, relieved. It was done. The targeting system would destroy the aircraft and with it, all of HYDRA’s plans.

The people were safe.

He looked back along the gantry. It was a very long way back to the ground, and he’d already lost a lot of blood.

It was worth it.

‘Okay Cap, get out of there.’

‘Fire now.’

‘But, Steve - ’

‘Do it! Do it now!’

He staggered to his feet just as the first missiles hit, and clung to the railing as the helicarrier jerked to the side, chunks of metal falling in a deadly rain.

He had to hope they were over deep water, then he had a chance to jump to safety. When Bucky inevitably followed him - to kill him - well, they could deal with that when it happened. He just hoped he wouldn’t get shot again before they had a chance to escape.

He heard a scream and looked down to find a huge metal support had fallen and crushed Bucky’s chest, pinning him to the floor. He was alive and struggling, but Steve doubted even he could lift something that size without help, let alone with a broken arm.

The metal and fire continued to crash all around them, the structure of the aircraft beginning to shake itself apart.

He’s in trouble. Bucky needs help.

Not thinking, no longer aware of the exhaustion or the pain, Steve pushed himself off the ledge.

*

It's about you and the sun
A morning run
The story of my maker
What I have, and what I ache for

I've got a golden ear
I cut and I spear
What else is there?

- Röyksopp, What Else Is There?

 

[2014]

 

Pain.

Restrained.

Helpless.

*

The Soldier struggled, but his arms were pinned to his sides. Something very heavy was crushing his chest.

He couldn’t breathe.

He had to escape.

*

The aircraft was breaking apart. Balls of flaming material fell all around the room, and the floor was shaking. It wouldn’t be long before it was completely destroyed.

[‘Protect HYDRA assets.’]

That mission was a failure.

He had to report.

[‘Kill the target on sight.’]

Where was the target?

A glimpse of blue high above.

A star.

*

‘I knew him.’

*

Why did he keep hearing those words?

Words were meaningless.

*

‘Steve… I’m sorry.’

‘I found it, Bucky. Our ticket back!’

*

He had to free himself.

The target must die.

He had to complete the mission.

He had to report.

*

Steve is dead.

Oh God, Steve is dead!

Why does that make me - ?

*

Lying curled up on his side in a dark room, tears falling silently down his cheeks.

Biting his tongue through pain that crushed his body, while his mind held onto a voice.

That voice.

‘Come on, let’s go.’

*

[‘Do not speak.’]

[‘Do not resist.’]

[‘Obey orders.’]

*

The target approached.

The Soldier was unable to defend himself.

He would fail in his mission.

[‘Your life belongs to HYDRA.’]

He struggled anyway.

*

The target lifted the support beam. He was very strong.

The Soldier’s right arm was still non-functional.

[‘Kill them.’]

He had no weapons.

The man must die.

*

Why?

*

Why did the target hesitate?

Why did he free him from the wreckage?

He should have shot him or left him to die.

This strategy made no sense.

So why - ?

*

I don’t understand!

Why did he help me?

*

Why?

*

No.

It didn’t matter.

*

He struggled to his feet. His body was weak from the impact. He had to act now.

[‘Kill them.’]

[‘Obey.’]

[‘Submit!’]

The target did not attack.

*

‘You know me.’

*

‘Bucky! Oh my God.’

‘Is that - ?’

*

[You are a soldier.’]

[‘Your life belongs to HYDRA.’]

[‘Do not question.’]

[‘Do not speak.’]

[‘Do not resist.’]

*

‘No I don’t!’

He struck the target, forbidden words forced through his mouth.

I can’t -

I -

*

Blue uniform.

White star.

Cold shield.

Warm hands.

*

Pain.

They make me forget.

I always forget.

I’m a prisoner.

I have to escape!

*

Hope.

Despair.

Tears.

Memories.

Always a trickle, then a flood.

*

‘Подчиняться. You will obey!’

It didn’t matter.

It couldn’t matter.

He had to complete his mission.

*

‘Bucky, You’ve known me your whole life.’

*

‘Stop making me laugh, Bucky. It hurts!’

*

He struck again, but it wasn’t enough.

*

I -

I don’t -

*

‘Your name is James Buchanan Barnes.’

*

‘Sergeant James Barnes. 32557038.’

‘I’m James Barnes, but everyone calls me Bucky.’

‘Bucky?’

‘I’m sorry, Bucky.’

‘James - I’m so sorry. I didn’t know how to tell you…’

‘Thanks, Buck. I’m glad you’re here.’

*

‘Shut up!’

This wasn’t part of the mission.

It wasn’t in his orders.

Please don’t -

He had to complete the mission.

He would be punished.

Pain.

Memories?

He didn’t want to know.

He couldn’t know.

I have to -

*

‘I’m not gonna fight you. You’re my friend.’

*

Friend?

The shield is gone.

An easy kill.

[‘Kill him.’]

[‘Kill him.’]

[‘Obey.’]

*

‘You’re my mission.’

Why didn’t the man understand?

The Soldier had to follow orders.

The mission was all that mattered.

*

‘But I knew him.’

*

Pain.

It was gone.

No.

There was -

- No!

*

‘You. Are. My. Mission!’

He pinned the man with his damaged arm and struck, again and again. He was nearing the limits of his endurance, but the target was still breathing.

He had to kill him.

Had to finish it.

*

‘Then finish it, ‘cause I’m with you to the end of the line.’

*

What?

*

‘Together ‘til the end of the line.’

‘ - end of the line, pal.’

‘Steve!’

‘You got us out, Steve!’

‘ - knew you’d come.’

*

He will come for me.

No!

Steve is dead.

He can’t save me.

Please…

*

The Soldier stopped short, his metal fist frozen in the killing blow.

Damaged blue eyes focused.

The target lay there, watching him.

Helpless.

He wore a familiar uniform.

A familiar face.

The Soldier’s living hand was resting on a white star.

Oh, God.

He knew.

*

Steve?

He was covered in blood.

Injured.

*

I couldn’t save him.

I -

*

I know him.

I remember.

He called me ‘Bucky.’

I called him ‘Steve.’

We -

*

The floor caved in.

He caught hold just in time, locking his metal fingers around a beam.

*

The man fell.

He was badly injured.

He would die.

*

They told me to kill him.

He could remember orders, and pain.

Now there were other things too, crowding into his head.

Faces.

Warm light.

Soft grass.

*

They had taken his life from him.

He always found a way back to himself eventually.

Even when it was too late.

*

What happened?

I remember.

How?

*

Something inside him wrenched as he saw the body hit the water far below. Before he had time to think, he released his grip and plummeted.

Can I save him?

He’ll rescue me.

I’m a prisoner of HYDRA.

I have to escape!

*

He could see breathing; shallow but steady.

The man would live.

Steve? I -

Everything was a blur.

He had disobeyed orders.

The mission was a failure.

But he knew now.

*

I killed…

So many missions.

So many dead.

*

They will come.

*

He had to get away.

Had to escape.

*

‘Captain America.’

Steve.

Thank you.

 

*

 

He didn’t look back.

Chapter Text

‘If all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger: I should not seem a part of it.’

― Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights

 

[2016]

 

Bucharest was a very beautiful city, and Steve wished that he had the time and attention to fully appreciate it. The pale buildings and ornate balconies were so different from his old home in Brooklyn and the impersonal glass of Stark Tower. He walked the streets of the old town in a daze, barely looking up from the GPS on his phone. Luckily his obliviousness and slightly out of place civilian attire marked him as a distracted tourist and not a super soldier, which is exactly what he was hoping for.

Sam was waiting nearby, ready to follow and provide air support.

When we find him.

The best intel had come from a large contracting firm in the city. A manager had reported someone fitting the Winter Soldier’s description working on a few of their construction sites over the past three months. They said he spoke Romanian well, although with an accent, and he’d worked tirelessly doing manual labor for a few days at a time before disappearing without warning. He hadn’t talked much or volunteered any information about himself, but other employees had commented several times on the man’s ‘quirk’ - he always wore a hat and gloves, even when the weather was mild.

Oh, Bucky.

*

After encouraging their source to keep quiet - Steve wasn’t holding out much hope, the guy was nervous and had probably talked already - he left the offices and started in the direction of Sector 5. Most of the developments the mysterious man - Bucky - had worked on were in that area, and the site manager guessed that he would be living somewhere close. No one ever saw him going for a bus or a tram.

He wouldn’t need to. He wouldn’t get tired.

‘Sam, I’m heading to Rahova. It’s in the south-west of the city, Sector 5. It’s the most likely place for him to be hiding based on his known movements in the past few months. Apparently he’s been working on construction sites for a while.’

‘Makes sense.’ Sam’s voice replied immediately in his earpiece. ‘He’ll need some way of making money that’s difficult to trace. I’m on my way to you now.’

‘Be careful.’ Steve murmured, pretending he was talking into the phone as he passed a group of people on the sidewalk. ‘Try not to let anyone spot you. There are others looking for him here, and the source gave nothing away - but he was scared. Very scared. I don’t think we have much time.’

‘Roger, Cap. See you soon.’

Steve fumbled his way through buying a tram ticket, the handful of Romanian words he’d learned not helping much with the numbers. He stood in a corner of the carriage, giving up on the pretence of studying his phone. There was no real way of staying inconspicuous here, and he had to hurry.

He’d had an old photo of Bucky colourised and brought it with him, folded carefully in his pocket. It made his heart twist painfully to look at it; the tones were ever so slightly off but it was somehow more real than the grey, edited memories he’d found when he visited the museum. He hoped it would help, but part of him didn’t want to show anyone else the picture. It felt like a violation.

There were other more recent pictures available, of course. The file Natasha had given to him contained several photographs of the Winter Soldier, along with fragments of medical records and reports dating all the way back to the 1940’s. Steve found he couldn’t look at them for long; they made him feel sick. He’d translated and read the file, made notes of any leads they could pursue then locked the disgusting thing in a safe so he wouldn’t have to think about it anymore.

He still had nightmares.

I should have gone back for you. I should have saved you, Bucky. I’m so sorry.

Now he understood why Natasha had been so skeptical. The contents of that file - he could have never imagined the horror. Bucky was trapped in that hell, for seventy years. No wonder he couldn’t remember. No wonder the Winter Soldier was the way he was. They had destroyed him, again and again.

But, he saved me. He saved my life there, in the end. He recognised me! Some part of him can still think, and feel, and hope.

I have to find him.

*

When he got off the tram at the Rahova market, he found a likely candidate in the owner of a central stall and put on his best ‘lost tourist’ voice.

‘Excuse me sir, do you speak English?’

‘A little. Just a little.’ The man replied, eyeing Steve suspiciously over the metal rims of his glasses.

‘Have you seen a foreign guy around here? Speaks Romanian, but not lived here long?’

‘Hmm…’ The man obviously didn’t trust him. His eyes narrowed further, bushy eyebrows almost touching each other. ‘I have not seen. Many people come to this market. Sorry.’

‘Okay. Well, thank you for your time sir.’

He tried a few other sellers, but with little success. It was a busy and chaotic place, which meant that if Bucky was staying near here he would probably have passed through or bought something - but it was also a location where he wouldn’t draw much attention. A few groups of tourists were wandering around, so an American wouldn’t be all that unusual. There were lots of entrances and exits to the market, several under cover, and it would be easy to lose anyone in the crowd. Steve started another loop of the market square, thinking. Bucky was highly trained and experienced at staying hidden. This place was ideal, but someone must have seen him recently if he lived nearby.

‘Esti bine? Are you okay? Do you need help?’

An older woman interrupted his brooding. She stood among hundreds of flowers, in a stall near the very edge of the market. There was a perfect lily tucked into her greying hair.

‘Oh… yes, sorry. I’m looking for my friend.’ Steve replied without thinking. He hadn’t even tried to think of an excuse for why he needed to find Bucky, but at least it was the truth. ‘I heard he might live around here.’

‘Is he Romanian?’ She sounded interested, and Steve had to remind himself that they were on borrowed time. He couldn’t afford to be too cautious if it meant he would get a lead.

‘He can speak Romanian, but he’s foreign like me - American.’ He smiled warmly at her and she returned it, blushing. Sometimes being ‘New and Improved Steve’ had other benefits besides the physical, including apparently charming people into giving him information. ‘He only moved here a few months ago and I’d like to catch up with him but - ’ He gestured to the bustling market around them. ‘- I’m afraid I’m a bit lost.’

‘Oh! Where do you need?’

She seemed to trust him, so he took a deep breath and pulled the photograph from his pocket.

‘I’m not sure. I haven’t seen him in a while. We served in the army together.’

She studied the picture, and after a few seconds her eyes lit up in recognition.

‘This looks like Andrei, but he is different now. Long hair.’ She gestured to the top of her shoulders to demonstrate, and Steve could feel the beginnings of hope uncurl from the pit of his stomach.

‘Andrei? Yes, of course.’ He said, trying not to sound too desperate. ‘Do you know him?’

‘I see him in my building.’ She pointed to a nondescript apartment block on the other side of the market. ‘He is quiet, but a very polite man. He helps me to carry the flowers.’

Steve tried to disguise his involuntary bark of a laugh with some polite coughing. The Winter Soldier was walking around carrying flowers?

‘Do you know which apartment, ma’am?’

‘No, but it must be the high floors. He always walks past me - up the stairs.’ She clasped her hands together in sympathy. ‘I hope you find Andrei - your friend. He is a nice man.’

‘I hope so too, and thank you - Mulțumesc.’ Steve almost broke into a run as he turned away, and he had to remind himself to slow down and act more natural. He dodged around startled shoppers as he cut across the square.

‘Sam?’

‘I’m here.’

‘I have a possible location. I’ll need the suit. Do you see the rooftop with the red water tower?’

‘Way ahead of you, Cap. Meet you there.’

*

After reuniting with Sam on the roof, Steve changed into his uniform and collected the shield. Sam had noticed armed forces mobilising on his way across the city, and a marked increase in air activity. He pulled back to hide a short distance away, keeping watch.

Steve dropped down the fire escape until he was at roughly the middle of the building, then quietly broke the lock to the hallway with a twist of his hand and stepped inside. A narrow stairwell snaked up above him, and it looked like there were four apartments per floor. He didn’t have time to check all of them, but the woman in the market said it would be near the top.

He started knocking on doors. It seemed like a lot of people weren’t home. It was the middle of the day and the building was quiet. He heard faint sounds coming from some of the apartments but no one answered, and Steve didn’t want to damage anything or cause a scene unless he had to. The less warning he gave of his presence, the better. He climbed higher inside the building, noting that the upper floors were more neglected. Some of the apartments were boarded up or perhaps abandoned.

It’s here. He’ll be around here somewhere. An untraceable location.

Will he recognise me, or will he attack?

Why was the Winter Soldier living here all this time if he was planning to bomb Vienna? It doesn’t make sense.

As he continued to work his way through the apartments on each floor, a door inched open a crack a few feet away and someone peered out. Steve lunged and shoved his hand into the space before a startled young woman could close it again, her brown eyes huge and terrified. She started to scream but managed to choke it back when he hushed her.

‘I’m not going to hurt you.’ He said quickly, though he knew the words wouldn’t do much good with him in full combat gear and carrying a weapon. ‘I’m looking for Andrei. My height, long brown hair.’ He paused. ‘He’s my friend, and he’s in trouble. I’m here to help.’

‘Andrei?’ She gasped, her slender body crumpling in on itself. ‘El nu a făcut nimic rău. Why?’

‘Please, if you know something you have to tell me. I don’t have much time.’

‘Nu înțeleg! El este foarte liniștit. Please - you won’t hurt him? Hurt me?’ There were tears in her eyes, and the hand he could see on the doorframe trembled.

‘Of course I won’t, but there are other men coming who will hurt him if they find him. Do you understand?’

She nodded slowly, wiping her eyes.

‘Please, just let me know where he lives. I have to find him.’

‘You are his - friend?’ She studied his face closely, looking for a lie.

‘Yes.’

After a short pause where an understanding passed between them, Steve could see her gather herself and straighten up. She took a conscious breath, making a decision.

‘Three floors above. Cel mai îndepărtat de scări. The last room. He didn’t say but I followed him before - gatesc și fac prea mult - I…give him food. He is kind.’ She sniffed. ‘Please, help him.’

‘I will.’ Steve promised. ‘Thank you. You need to stay inside until we’re gone. Don’t open the door again, no matter what you hear. Understand?’

She nodded, eyes wide.

‘Thanks.’

He barely heard the soft click of her door as he sprinted up the stairs, half a dozen at a time.

*

The Winter Soldier’s - Bucky’s - apartment was strange. It wasn’t what Steve expected at all.

Some things made sense. All the windows were covered, and the frames nailed shut. There was no way anyone could see inside. Mail was left around the front door, which gave the impression the place was uninhabited. All standard methods to disguise a bolt hole.

Inside, there were obvious signs someone had lived there for a while. A mattress on the floor with a sleeping bag and pillow, packets of food and dishes scattered about and towels hanging in the cramped bathroom all pointed to a full-time occupant.

There were no weapons or anything HYDRA related that he could see, but maybe that was the point. Could they be hidden somewhere?

Makeshift shelves on the wall caught his attention. They held quite a few notebooks of varying designs, and stacks of old newspapers in several languages, most of which Steve didn’t recognise. French, Russian, one that was perhaps Italian or Spanish, he could guess a smaller pile was in Romanian… and others too?

Can he understand all of these? Is he looking for something?

He walked towards the back door, but he could see it was bolted shut from the inside. Something on top of the refrigerator caught his attention, and he moved aside some food to pull out yet another notebook.

HYDRA’s number one assassin eats caramel wafers and cheese sandwiches. Are you kidding me?

The scribbled writing in the book was also not what he expected. It was disjointed, but even at a glance obviously some kind of journal or diary. Steve didn’t want to look too closely, afraid of what he might find. His thoughts kept straying to the medical reports, the x-rays, the statistics. His heart stopped when he flipped through a few more pages, and a photo of himself suddenly stared back at him. It was one of the promotional postcards he had seen for sale in tourist centres in the States - one of his old Captain America photos from the 1940’s when they’d first formed the Howling Commandos. He had thought the publicity so embarrassing at the time. Now though, when he saw it he didn’t know what he should feel. Did Bucky remember him, or was this how he planned to track him down to kill him?

It doesn’t matter.

I have to find him.

‘Heads up Cap, German special forces approaching from the south.’

Sam came over the comm, his voice even. Steve knew he had to leave. Bucky wasn’t here, but perhaps they could get to him another way.

‘Understood.’

Steve suddenly felt a prickling on the back of his neck and turned around. Even though a part of him expected it, to see Bucky - the Winter Soldier - standing there took all of his breath away.

It’s him. Oh God, it’s really him. We did it!

It had been almost two years since Steve had gotten a good look at Bucky, but he hadn’t changed much. It was strange to see him in civilian clothing - neither of them had worn anything other than a uniform for years when they last knew each other. Now Bucky was in worn jeans and a jacket, and his long hair was pushed under a baseball cap. Thick gloves covered his hands, which were held stiffly at his sides. He didn’t look as pale as he had in DC, but his eyes were tired and wary. He waited motionless near the doorway to the apartment, watching Steve without blinking.

He doesn’t stand quite like the Winter Soldier did. Is he armed? I don’t think so, but he’s afraid.

That’s new.

‘Do you know me?’

Steve wasn’t sure he wanted to know the answer. They were heading into a combat situation, and if Bucky didn’t recognise him he would have a whole other bag of problems. He wasn’t sure how he could get them both out without casualties if the Winter Soldier decided he wanted to hurt him.

‘You’re Steve. I read about you in a museum.’

Bucky’s voice was calm and he didn’t move, but his eyes flickered past Steve to the back door. Analysing. Seeking a way out.

‘They've set the perimeter.’

Sam was reminding Steve that he had to hurry, but it was Bucky right there, and he was talking. He’d been to the Smithsonian and looked at the displays.

I was right.

‘I know you're nervous, and you have plenty of reason to be, but you're lying.’ Steve said, trying to keep his voice steady.

He realised he was still holding the diary and placed it self-consciously on the counter. Now wasn’t the time to discuss old pictures. He had to find out if the Winter Soldier was still dangerous. So far he seemed fairly lucid, but then again there was the Vienna bombing, and what had happened on the helicarrier -

‘I wasn't in Vienna. I don't do that anymore.’ Bucky interrupted his train of thought. He didn’t seem angry or hostile, just matter-of-fact.

‘They're entering the building.’ Sam was tense, they had to leave.

Steve couldn’t be sure that Bucky spoke the truth, but all his instincts told him to trust. He was sure that the Winter Soldier he’d fought two years ago wouldn’t stand and quietly speak with him like this. At any rate, it didn’t make a difference to the immediate plan.

‘Well, the people who think you did are coming here now. And they're not planning on taking you alive.’

I’m not your enemy, Bucky.

Bucky’s posture didn’t change, he just nodded, still calm.

‘That's smart. Good strategy.’

‘They're on the roof. I'm compromised.’ Sam’s voice cut off abruptly, and Steve mentally said a quick prayer for his friend, hoping he would get away in time.

‘This doesn't have to end in a fight, Buck.’

Please, trust me. Part of you knows who I am.

Steve wasn’t sure exactly what he was hoping for - that maybe they could both get down the outside of the building and into a vehicle? However, from what Sam was describing, it seemed they were out of luck. They would have to fight their way free.

Bucky was now looking at the ceiling, tracking the noise of the approaching forces. He took a step towards the front door and sighed.

‘It always ends in a fight.’

He sounds exhausted. Has he been running all this time?

‘Five seconds.’ Good old Sam. Steve owed him more than a beer if they got back in one piece this time.

‘You pulled me from the river. Why?’ Steve asked, impatience creeping into his voice.

You could have left me to die, and completed your mission. Instead, you saved my life. What happened?

He found himself staring at Bucky’s hands as he removed the gloves, silver knuckles shining even in the dim room. The movements of the metal hand made a quiet humming sound, but Bucky still hadn’t made a move to draw a weapon.

Who are you going to fight?

Steve had to know. Did they have any chance with this?

‘I don't know.’ Bucky said, frustrated. He wouldn’t meet Steve’s eyes.

‘Three seconds!’

‘Yes, you do.’

Come on. Remember me, Buck. Please. I’m trying to help you!

‘Breach! Breach! Breach!’

Chapter Text

watch me vanish
watch me

vanish

watch me
watch me

watch

― Sarah Kane, 4.48 Psychosis



KGB Division for the Dnepropetrovsk Region
Classified

Case No. 17
Volume 2


James Barnes - Military record of maintenance, deployment and experimentation

Opened: March 23rd, 1945



Internal communication, February 4th, 1945 [Translated from Russian]

Commander,

We have gained possession of the subject. The left arm suffered a traumatic amputation in the incident, but other injuries have healed with remarkable speed. It is clear that the Doctor’s work was at least partially successful.

The subject currently refuses to co-operate. We have begun standard interrogation techniques, and estimate three to seven days until full compliance.

Request permission to use advanced methods when necessary, taking into account the subject’s enhanced regenerative abilities. We do not anticipate any complications at this stage.

All assigned personnel have attended a briefing on the procedures agreed in our last conference. At this time the threat is minimal, and the subjugation protocol is level 3 non-lethal, to be reviewed in 24 hours.

 

Иван Петрович Буряков
[Ivan Petrovich Buryakov]

Chief of Special Operations

*

Internal communication, February 8th, 1945

Commander,

Apologies for the delay. The subject is proving difficult to break. Either the enhancements are more extensive than we thought, or the mind is unusually resilient.

Subjugation now at level 2. The superior healing factor prevents any permanent damage.

Nutrition reduced by 40%. Medical staff have calculated the minimum requirements for function.

Thank you for the go-ahead for the advanced program. We start tomorrow.

As we discussed I do not believe the subject to possess any intelligence of value to us, but transcripts of all sessions will be delivered to you promptly.

All attempts to reverse engineer the serum have so far been unsuccessful. It would appear that without the Doctor’s expertise, the subject will remain our only source for the foreseeable future. Research is ongoing.

*

Internal communication, June 19th, 1945

Commander,

The recent spate of adverse incidents involving the subject has now ceased. We are confident that the program is now effective, and the possibility of any further resistance is minimal.

The mental integrity of the subject has reduced as planned, but all physical capabilities remain enhanced. Subject still attempts regular body conditioning, however the current containment area is sufficient. 24-hour guard will remain as a precaution against further incidents.

No further progress on the serum can be made with our current resources. Our international contacts are looking for solutions to the problem.

The subject will remain in the containment area as an asset. I have been informed by the research team that they need more data for future experiments.

*

Medical Record [Translated from Russian]



02/02/1945
Technician Yeliseyev

Assessment, 11:05

BP: 70/50
RHR: 51BPM
ECG: Sinus rhythm
Temp: 36.6C

Approx 28yo male

Medical History - Unknown. Old scarring to left thigh. Previous medical experimentation. Exact details not yet confirmed.

Traumatic amputation at left proximal humerus - Vessels ligated. Tissues sutured and dressed.
Fractures of clavicle and 2nd-4th ribs, left side.
Undisplaced bimalleolar fracture of right ankle.
Fractures of left zygoma, left mandibular condyle and parasymphysis. - Reduced.
Multiple contusions and lacerations to torso and limbs. - Cleaned.
Subgaleal haematoma of occipital region - ? Unknown intracranial injuries
Conjunctival haemorrhages bilaterally.

Unable to assess cognition due to level of sedation. Pupils minimally responsive.
Drug tolerance high - Recommendation to begin at 6x standard dose, confirmed with senior staff. To be reviewed every 2 hours.

Untested physical enhancements due to previous experimentation. To be considered hostile and dangerous. Armed guards present at all times. A minimum of 2 technicians for all interventions.

Plan - Monitor recovery rate and keep sedated until further notice. NG nutrition and hydration if required.

*

05/02/1945
Doctor Malinovsky

Assessment, 10:31

BP: 110/50
RHR: 80BPM
ECG: Intermittent tachycardia, resolved after sedation.
Temp: 38.1C

Unsettled past 24 hours. Amputation site now healed but subject remains agitated. Sedation ineffective except in the very highest doses. Anaesthesia not currently indicated as part of the security program. Fractures and minor injuries mostly healed. Subject does not co-operate with tests, but senses and mobility appear to be at baseline. No evidence of infection.

Nutrition noted to assist healing process and enhancements. Currently withheld for security reasons.

Plan - Continue to maintain baseline condition of subject during security program. Monitor healing rates using chart. Blood samples to be sent to the research division every 48 hours with accompanying documentation.

*

27/05/1945
Doctor Malinovsky

Assessment, 14:44

BP: 110/60
RHR: 49BPM
ECG: Sinus rhythm
Temp: 37.9C

Nutrition increased. New formulas of sedatives and psychotropics lasted for approximately 5 hours. Subject eats independently but exhibits no higher cognitive behaviours. Evidence of frequent auditory and visual hallucinations.

Physical condition stable. Wounds not sanitised or dressed as per current study. Healing rate unaffected. Pain threshold normal. Crush fractures to sternum, ribs and right ulna sustained during tests on 22/05 now healed. No overgrowth or scarring. Bone and blood samples sent.

Plan - Continue studies. Increase dosing regimen.

*

21/11/1945
Technician Shokalsky

Assessment, 11:05

BP: 110/50
RHR: 53BPM
ECG: Sinus rhythm
Temp: 38.3C

2/7 post surgery. No evidence of infection or rejection.

Implants:

Hypothalamus - Signal detected. Inactive
Amygdala - Signal detected. Inactive
Cerebellum - Signal detected. Inactive
T3 - Signal detected. Active
L. Soleus - Signal detected. Active

L. Prosthetic - Grafted tissues intact. Nerve signals intact. Unable to assess full function due to sedation. Estimated healing time currently 48-60 hours at the standard rate.

Blood - Serum levels remain high. Haemoglobin structure unaffected. Hyperkalaemia and Hypercalcaemia - ? side effect of the serum. Currently asymptomatic.

Imaging - Hydrocephalus in the 3rd ventricle and midline shift noted. Cerebral oedema. To be reviewed tomorrow. Drains checked and confirmed to be patent.

Plan - Record implant signals every 12 hours. All reports to be sent to Doctor Zola directly. Assess graft and function once sedation is metabolised. Full blood workup twice daily. Remove drains.

*

24/11/1945
Doctor Malinovsky

Assessment, 10:15

BP: 100/50
RHR: 90BPM
ECG: Brief episodes of Atrial Fibrillation, self-terminating.
Temp: 38.1C

All implants and grafts fully functional. No signs of infection or rejection. Inflammation resolved.

Blood - Serum markers stable. Electrolytes still abnormal but subject remains asymptomatic - ? new baseline.

Imaging - Hydrocephalus resolved. Oedema greatly reduced. All implants in situ.

Subject showing greatly increased levels of agitation and disorientation. Incidences of extreme violence. 7x casualties, 3x fatal. Security increased until further notice. No changes to current sedation regimen without instructions from Doctor Zola. Nutrition withheld until further notice.

Plan - Implant activation and conditioning procedures as soon as possible. Prepare for cryostasis and transfer, to be completed within the next 7 days.

*



Here I am
and there is my body

dancing on glass

― Sarah Kane, 4.48 Psychosis

 

[2014]


He could feel moist earth between his fingers and smell the thick leaves and damp greenery all around him. There was a slight breeze that brought with it faint noises from passing traffic and the nearby river.

He was bent low, his head down. Motionless. He had been there for hours; waiting. Seeing nothing. People walked along the path within just a few metres of his hiding place, but no one found him.

They would have screamed if they had.

He was used to remaining in such positions for days at a time, and his body didn’t complain. His mind however, was elsewhere.

*

‘I’m sorry, Bucky.’

‘No! We have to do something!’

*

‘Steve?’

I was -

I was a prisoner.

Steve found me. He saved me.

*

[‘You being to HYDRA.’]

[‘Eliminate these targets. No witnesses.’]

[‘I’m ready.’]

*

‘Please don’t make me do this.’

‘You’re my mission.’

‘Then finish it, ‘cause I’m with you to the end of the line.’

*

I don’t understand.

Where am I?

*

The Soldier shuddered and blinked rapidly, pushing his tangled hair out of his eyes. He slowly lifted his head and took in his immediate surroundings, keeping the rest of his body unnaturally still. He was crouched in a group of large bushes in what looked like a public park. Directly in front of him across a short expanse of lawn was a huge tree, the branches heavy with leaves and berries. There were a few small flowers scattered around the base of its massive trunk.

*

The tree.

I was here, and -

*

What happened?

*

Hands clawing at the dirt beneath the tree, the skin torn and blistered.

Tears on his cheeks.

An embrace.

Cold ground.

*

Wait.

It doesn’t look right.

*

He tried to summon the image of the tree again in his mind. He saw thick branches spread wide, bare earth under the canopy, a glimpse of someone standing next to him. Someone smaller, their face turned away. Crying.

*

It’s not here.

*

What he kept seeing was similar, but not the same. This wasn’t the same tree, though it might have looked somewhat like it from a distance.

*

Why did I come here?

Did I -

Did I remember?

*

The Soldier had no memory of arriving at the park. He had thought to escape and he had flashes of walking beside a river, but after that - nothing.

*

My arm -

It was damaged.

He looked down. His right arm mirrored the left on the ground, both palms in the dirt. As he focused he registered pain, but it didn’t seem as bad as the echo in his mind.

*

He braced himself against a low wall, and snapped the bone back into place, gritting his teeth as pain exploded in the elbow joint. He flexed it a few times to check the position, then continued to walk, ducking out of sight as helicopters came into view overhead.

*

So, he had set the break at some point. It would heal.

Why couldn’t I remember that?

Parts were missing. Shattered. Time lost in the pain and confusion as he ran.

The Soldier mentally shook himself. This wasn’t useful. He had to gather more information, and map out what he did know.

First, he was in a park that reminded him of somewhere else - probably because of the tree.

He was in Washington DC, in the United States. HYDRA brought him here to complete a mission.

They - HYDRA? - erased his memories, but fragments were gradually coming back. He vaguely recalled this process happening before, in a cold and dark room. When they found out the memories had returned, they had hurt him. Badly. This time though, HYDRA didn’t know where he was. If he stayed hidden, they couldn’t do it again.

He had orders. Orders to kill. A common occurrence, but this time things were different. He could still remember the words, but he didn’t feel the need within him to obey. In fact, the thought of violence made him feel ill, and his limbs began to shake.

*

A rifle recoiling in his hands. In the distance, the target’s head exploded in a shower of gore, his young family too shocked to react.

The Soldier was already running when the screaming started.

Walking through fire to reach a desperate, crawling woman, her legs broken and bloodied beneath her. He wrapped a hand around her throat. A snap, and she dropped limply to the floor.

The knife slid through flesh without a sound, his victim unable to speak. A thin line of blood escaped his lips. The Soldier held the blade steady until the struggling stopped, weak hands trying to shove him away. He ignored the distraction and pressed down harder. Soon everything was still.

*

Oh, God!

I don’t - No - I can’t do it anymore.

They did something to me.

So then why did I -

*

Wait. Stop. Think.

*

‘You know me.’

‘Bucky, you’ve known me your whole life.’

*

It was that man. The one who had called himself ‘Steve.’ They were fighting each other, but then -

Steve had called him ‘Bucky.’ It was familiar, but just out of reach.

Was that his name?

The thought that he might have a name had never occurred to him before, but he had never needed one to follow orders. He was a soldier, so that’s what they called him.

Now there were new voices in his head, and they seemed to think his name was ‘Bucky’. There were other names churning around in there too, but that was the one he heard most often.

He could picture the man called Steve clearly in his mind, and he knew the feeling of that blue uniform under his hands.

*

How?

Was it even real?

‘You’re my friend.’

Other images of Steve came to him in flashes, but it was all jumbled. They were sitting at a table in an apartment, but also standing outside. In the snow, and on hot stone steps. Eating, then fighting. Different places: snow, busy streets, ruins, a world of metal and fire. Steve was short, but also tall and strong. A child, then a grown man.

*

Who is he?

How do I know him?

He wasn’t with me in the - when I was a prisoner.

I escaped. I left without reporting back.

They’ll try to find me.

*

It was almost dark now. A man walked past him carrying a lock for the gates. The park would be empty until morning.

*

The tree.

What is it?

Why am I -

*

Once he was sure it was dark enough for him to stay hidden, he slowly got to his feet. The muscles in his legs protested slightly as they got used to moving again, but he ignored the discomfort. It was irrelevant.

He walked silently across the perfect lawn until he found himself underneath the tree canopy, the leaves completely blocking out the clear sky. His eyes were drawn down to the base of the trunk, where the ground was damp and sprinkled with wildflowers.

He placed his right hand against the rough bark, feeling the jagged surface catch on his sensitive fingertips as he gently dragged them all the way down. Something tightened in his chest, and he knelt, fingers burrowing into the soft, dark earth.

*

It wasn’t like this.

The ground was hard and dry.

It hurt.

So why -

Why does this make me feel?

*

The Soldier stayed under the tree until it was almost dawn. He wasn’t aware of his body trembling, the salt trails drying on his cheeks, or the dew slowly soaking into his clothes. Faces passed through his mind; living and dead. Impressions of touch, and of being touched. Kindness, and pain. He stayed within himself, and silently cried for what he didn’t fully understand.

A tree.

An embrace.

Tears.

Then, and now.

*

When the warden came to open the park gates in the morning, he discovered that the lock on the supply shed was completely destroyed and several items of clothing were missing.

Strangely, none of the valuable machinery was stolen or damaged, but one of the shovels had evidently been returned without being properly cleaned. The warden made a mental note to complain to the gardeners once he’d reported the break-in.

He didn’t notice that a patch of soil in front of the central tree was freshly dug. The wildflowers were gone.