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Winter Hero

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Steve wakes up disoriented. He sits up, fumbling for the new phone Tony gave him last week. It’s 2:54 am. Well, he’s awake now, so Steve stumbles around in the dark until he makes it to the spacious kitchen. He flips the lights on, temporarily blinding himself in his ignorance of the fact that the slider had them on the brightest setting.
He fixes the lights and grabs his favorite tea and the mug Bucky gave him for his birthday, the one depicting a cartoonish Captain America struggling with a walker. Steve shakes off the reminiscing memories in hopes of figuring out the overly-complicated coffee machine pre-installed on every floor of Stark Tower. He manages to start it up, then absent-mindedly flips through a sketchbook while he waits for the water to heat. Ever since he got Bucky back, art has come more easily, giving Steve the habit of leaving sketchbooks all over their shared floor, just in case the need to draw strikes him without warning and he needs a sketchbook. Bucky was not entirely happy when he found not one but two sketchbooks wedged in between the couch cushions. The water heats and Steve pours the mug full, heading to the chilly living room to read. Wait, chilly? Steve looks around the room, eyes settling on the open window. Steve hops off of the couch to shut it when he remembers doing the same exact thing the night before when Bucky headed to bed. Wait, Bucky? Bucky always wakes up when Steve walks from his room to the kitchen, even after Tony fitted Bucky’s room with soundproofing walls. He heads down the hall, past his steaming mug, completely forgotten. If he walks a little faster than usual, he doesn’t notice.
The room is empty, just as he predicted. The lone USB sits on the bed.
---
Friday wakes Tony up from his rare slumber.
“I’m sorry to rouse you sir, but Captain Rogers will arrive at your floor in five seconds.” She reports. Tony shakes himself, crawling out of bed to head to the main room.
“This better be good, Cap,” He says at Steve runs into the room. “Ok, maybe you aren’t entirely boring.” Tony decides. Steve holds up a slick black USB.
“I need your help, Tony.” He says, ignoring the previous comment.
---
After Steve sees the HYDRA emblem, he calls for the rest of the Avengers.
“What Steve?” Clint drones, sleepily leaning on an alert Natasha.
“HYDRA.”
Steve says, and the whole room tenses.
“I thought getting Bucky out took care of that.” Sam says cautiously.
“Where is he?” Bruce asks, catching on.
“Cap’s bff is mia.” Tony says.
“I found this USB in his room. It contains a series of emails and videos.” Steve says, pointing to the HYDRA emblem.
“Bucky’s back with them?” Natasha asks, tensing, hand resting on her holster.
“No!” Steve says. Tony fiddles with the tech, and the projection shows the emails.
“He never replied.” Tony says, showing them the ten or so emails. “But each of the emails has a video attachment embedded in it. I’m going to assume he watched the videos.” Tony says, clicking on the first email, then clicking the linked video.
Any of the jokes resting on the tip of Tony’s tongue dissolve as they see a girl in her early teens strapped to a table with nasty bruises covering her arms and face. Her right arm is half flesh, half metal, similar to the metal Bucky’s arm is made out of. Steve grimaces. It’s the same state he found Bucky after Bucky managed to escape the facility by himself. A man enters the scene, walking towards the girl and looking at her unconscious form before facing the camera.
“She didn’t make it out.” He says, a hint of a grin on his evil face, before turning back to the girl. “Not like you thought.” A group of men enter the room then, equipped with a car battery and some wires. They attach the alligator clips to large bolts on the chair, and start the battery, shocking the girl into awareness.
“Where is the Winter Soldier?” The man demands. Steve tenses. He doesn’t know if this girl is a friend or foe, but it seems she knows Bucky. She glares at the man, and Steve decides he likes her. For now. “Where is he? I know you aided in his escape, I know you were supposed to be right behind him, but you hesitated, you are loyal to us. So where is he?!” The man shouts, but the girl doesn’t flinch. She doesn’t say anything. “I asked you a question, and I am your handler. What are you supposed to do?” The man growls.
The video ends and Tony looks at the rest of the group before opening the next one without a question. As it loads, Steve looks around. Clint looks more awake. That girl can’t be much older than his own children. Natasha looks almost sick. She went through a similar situation. Bruce seems to be assessing the injuries, thinking about how she can stay alive. Sam looks grim. Tony looks upset but watches as the next video starts.
The girl has more bruises this time.
“Asset, I know you are out there.” Steve almost shivers at the man’s cold tone and steely eyes. He’s unhappy but clearly enjoying toying with Bucky. “I know you saw the previous video.” He states simply, turning away from the camera to nod at his two assistants. They grab the girl and drag her towards the camera. Her hands are bound behind her back, and her ankles are bound together.
“Those are some special cuffs.” Tony says quietly.
“The same used on Bucky.” Steve adds, just as quiet.
“You have one chance.” The man says, and the team turns their attention back to the video. “Tell me where the Winter Soldier is.” He says and the girl says nothing. “One more time,” He says. The girl still says nothing. “That’s it.” The man says quickly. He gestures for the assistants to come closer, and one cuffs the girl hard, and she falls forward, still staying quiet. The video ends as the man delivers a swift kick to her ribs, a small grunt the only noise she makes.
The next three videos are similar. They try and torture Bucky’s location out of her, which Steve is pretty sure she doesn’t know and if she does then she’s smarter than he thinks, and she doesn’t say anything, even after an extremely painful-looking session in the third video. Bruce left in the middle of that one; he had a greenish tint to his face and Tony asked Friday to monitor him.
Tony hovers over the sixth video. He hesitates, looking around at the stricken faces of the team.
“Do I...?” He asks quietly.
Steve nods, but he also hesitates. He has no clue what he’s getting himself and his team into.
The next video starts differently. The man is alone in the frame as he starts to talk.
“Unfortunately, the injuries Assist attained have kept her unconscious, so I am only talking to you today, Asset.” He says, and Natasha twitches. Steve knows she doesn’t like this. “I know you are hiding out somewhere. I know you are accessing this email and watching these videos.
I know you care for your Assist, no matter how many times you were punished for showing attachments.” The man finishes, but an alarm begins to blare in the background. The man stands abruptly, jostling the table, and knocking the camera onto its side. The video
continues to play for a bit, until Tony messes with the slider.
“This video goes on for another couple hours with no activity.” He says quietly, playing the next video. This is the first time they see the man angry.
“It thought it could escape. It knows where you are, Winter Soldier. We all know what happens to those who try to escape, don’t we?!” The man shouts. “This is your third attempt at escape. I assumed you would know by now: hell is inescapable.” He says to the girl. Steve sees Clint shudder. The video cuts out.
The next video is just the man demanding information the girl won’t give up.
The ninth video is different. It’s a tactical video, shaky footage captured from a camera hastily strapped to a gun, standing beside the girl. She has a tactical vest on, but Tony frowns. There aren’t any straps in the front. A few moments pass, and she steps forward as the door of a van opens. That’s when Tony sees the many straps on the back. She couldn’t have put that on by herself. The gun nudges the girl in the shoulder roughly.
“No mistakes in the field.” The voice laughs a bit. “Your Winter Hero isn’t here to save you now.” He laughs again, and Steve’s heart sinks. They board the waiting van, and the clip finishes, switching to another.
It’s a fast fight, but the man never lets the girl take the lead when she is clearly the better fighter. She never gets hit once, but the man is hit twice in the arm. At the end of the robbery, before they get in the van, the camera lands on the girl. The camera bobs as he nods at his arm. “These are on you.” He grunts, getting in the van and leaving her no choice but to follow, but she runs. She barely makes it to the end of the block before the shots ring out and the clip cuts to a static end. The man’s face appears once again.
“Your Assist is rogue. Useless to this organization. It hid its attachment to you so well we almost missed it. Unfortunate. It had real potential. Potential to be better than you.”
“This was sent only an hour ago,” Tony says, shutting down the hologram, and Steve has a clear view of Bucky’s deer-in-a-headlight eyes. And the pain inside them.
---
Tony pushes him into a chair before he has an all-out panic attack.
“What made you think it was a good idea to go out alone in a state like this?” Natasha says firmly.
“We just got you back a couple of months ago. What was your plan if you got stuck back there?” Sam asks.
“You need backup going against something like this,” Clint puts his two cents in.
“I didn’t think you were that dense.” Tony mutters.
“Why, Bucky? Why wouldn’t you tell us?” Steve asks quietly, the others straining to hear his question.
“Assist was going to be put down for my actions. Mission was time-sensitive.” He says.
“Well did you succeed?” Tony butts in.
“Mission incomplete. HYDRA expected a break-in.” Bucky sighs deeply. They’re going to kill her.” He whispers.
“We won’t let it happen, Buck,” Steve says, placing a firm hand on his friend’s shoulder. Bucky looks up, doubt hiding on his impassive face.
“Mission has increased time-sensitivity.” He reminds them. “They will expect us.”
“Me and Natasha will come with you. Infiltrate quietly, and have the rest of the team ready for backup.” Steve decides.
“Cap-” Tony protests, but Steve silences him with a look.
“We need to do this as fast as possible. We’re heading out in three minutes.” Steve declares.
---
Bucky is silent the entire way there, having already told Steve where he located Assist. He leads Steve and Natasha into the facility, careful of the things he encountered earlier. He did not trip the sensor that originally got him caught. Steve and Nat follow him closely.
“Up,” Bucky whispers, gently pulling the grate from the obnoxiously oversized vent. Nat takes the lead, Steve behind her, and Bucky last. Nat leads in the direction Bucky tells her to.
“Buck, why hasn’t nobody noticed us yet?” Steve whispers.
“They want to see it.” Bucky says quietly.
“See what?” Steve asks before Natasha stops abruptly in front of him. They reached a grate that gives them a clear view of the main event. The girl is on her knees, hands cuffed behind her back. Two men, one from the video, stand in front of her. One is holding a long knife. The whole facility is gathered around to watch.
“One last chance,” The man from the videos says. “Where is the Winter Soldier?” Bucky tenses. The girl’s eyes narrow.
“Far away from here.” She says, a second later her neck snapping backwards to accompany the punch from the man with the knife. Bucky tenses again.
“We should move now,” Steve whispers.
“No, we need a better distraction,” Natasha argues.
“I have one. Wait for my signal,” Bucky says, disappearing back into the vents.
“We gave you a chance,” The man sighs. He unfolds a paper that was in his shirt pocket and begins reading in French.”
“Chitauri.”
The girl takes a sharp breath.
“Forgotten.”
She clenches her eyes shut as if trying to block out the sound.
“Debt.”
Her face twitches.
“Twist.”
She bares her teeth, her face relaxing at the same time.
“35.”
Her eyes snap open, deadly and cold.
“Don’t you dare talk about-”
“Docile.”
She huffs out a small laugh.
“9.”
“All I ever wanted-”
“Rescued.”
“Was to see my family again,”
“4.”
“All you’re doing-”
“Lost.” The man finishes.
“Is granting my wish-” Her body jerks and she looks up. “Ready to comply.”
“You know what you must do for your treasonous acts.” The man with the knife says, unlocking the handcuffs. She slowly holds out a hand, and he gives her the knife. It’s Steve’s turn to tense up as she angles the blade towards herself. The handler begins to loosen the straps on her tactical vest.
“Goodbye, Assist.” The man from the videos says, but Bucky launches himself out of another vent and onto the man.
“Override code: yellow!” He shouts.
“Override accepted.” She says, stabbing the knife into the guy behind her. “Cutting it close today, Bucko,” She says grinning. Her vest hangs loose, but it doesn’t stop her from jumping into battle. Steve and Nat jump from the vents and join the two in the fight. It’s a long fight, but an easy one. Steve can’t help but check to make sure Bucky and the small girl are doing fine, but every time he checks, they’re working at lightning speed in perfect sync. Nat calls him back into the fight.
The agents keep coming. Bucky and the girl lead Steve and Nat away down a long corridor, barring the doors shut behind them.
“We need to get out of here,” Bucky says, and the girl blinks in understanding.
“Vents, too small. Front door is the best option. Security is easily bypassed.” She says, and Bucky takes this into consideration.
“Whatever the plan is, we need to keep moving,” Natasha reminds them, and Steve leads the way down the corridor. They take about ten steps before a gunshot rings out in the hall, echoing off the walls. Bucky whips around just in time to see the girl drop, the bullet hitting near her heart, her vest rendered useless when loosened.
“No!” Bucky shouts, seeing the handler with the smoking gun. Natasha returns fire, giving Bucky time to grab her and get out of there, Steve and Natasha right behind him.
---
They make it back to Avengers Tower a few minutes before sunrise.
Bruce waits with a team of doctors, Nat having alerted him to the situation on the way back. Bucky lays her on the table, and the doctors get to work.
“Can we get this vest off?” One of them asks. He tries to cut the material, but it is in vain. Bucky tries to get at the straps on the back, but they are in the middle of the back, where she cannot reach them. Bucky doesn’t waste time flipping her over, simply grabbing the seams and putting his full strength into ripping it apart. Successful, Bruce kicks him out. Friday will instruct him to come back when necessary. An order to follow: sit and wait.
---
Steve finds him shortly.
“Bucky,” He says. Bucky doesn’t move. Steve waves a hand in front of his face. Bucky doesn’t register it. Steve sits down next to him, sighing.
“What?” Bucky asks after a minute.
“Tell me the story,” Steve asks slowly.
“What is there to tell? HYDRA brainwashed a kid and made her work with me,” Bucky says quietly. “Made her believe she wasn’t worth anything,” He says, quieter. “Made her kill,” He whispers.
“But you saved her from that. You want to help her.” Steve points out. “Why?”
“They got her during the Chitauri invasion.” He starts slowly. “Found her half-trapped under a fallen building. The fact that she was still awake and functioning, that her stamina had held out that long, they wanted her. They told her they were taking her to a safe house,” He says dimly.
“They being HYDRA?” Steve asks.
“Yes.” He pauses. “I was with them.” He sighs. “She realized it wasn’t a safe house almost immediately. The first week was just brainwashing. They had me help them, knowing I would have to train her.” He lets out a long breath. “She was strong-willed. She still remembered everything after the first wipe.” Steve looks away. “Even after the twelfth wipe, she still remembered her family. It took thirty-six sessions to make her forget her parents. After forty, she still remembered the names.” Bucky chokes out the last sentence. Steve turns to him.
“Whose names?” He asks, fear in his eyes. Bucky breaks.
“Andrew, Kiara, Dilan, and Miles,” A tear rolls down his face. “Her siblings. She didn’t even know who they were, but she knew they were important. She didn’t even remember her own name.” Bucky grits his teeth and continues on. “They couldn’t brainwash her anymore that week for risk of brain damage. I watched her. I only earned her trust when I told her what her name was.” Steve looks at him expectantly. “I told her that they were calling her Assist, but her real name is Angie.” Steve looks at Bucky with sorrow in his eyes.
“Buck, you helped her. You changed her life, none of what they did is your fault,” Steve says quietly. Bucky sighs.
“The blast that knocked the building she and her family were in,” He pauses. “I gave the order to send it.”

 

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