Damn. He'd been so careful. The fucking thing. He even used the metal arm to check it out. Probably should have used the human hand, because all Bucky remembers is a zap and a buzz, like an electric current hit him. He must have been knocked out by the power surge. Metal is a conductor, even the cutting-edge alloy of the arm.
Bucky groans as he lifts his head. Okay, so he’s lying on the fucking floor, beneath one of Stark’s workbenches. It’s still dark in the lab; there's just a strip of muted light on the floor. It leads to the emergency exit, he recalls from his early days in the Tower, when he trusted nobody and did routine perimeter checks on all floors. It’s been five years since he broke free from Hydra, four years since Steve found him in a flophouse in Brighton Beach. He honestly can't remember when he's last been in Stark’s lab at night.
Where the hell did Nat and Stark go? They were discussing something on the other side of the room, weren't they? He got bored and poked around in the shelves. That last thing he remembers is touching this weird device – and boom! But it’s all a bit fuzzy in his brain, and surely Nat would not leave him lying on the floor like that. Stark is another story, but Steve at least must wonder why he hasn't come home to dinner, much less to –
Soft steps approach on the stairs. Bucky follows the light strip with his eyes, and yep, someone's coming down to the lab. For a moment, Bucky thinks it’s Ms. Potts but she's taller, faster, a different walk altogether even when she’s not wearing high-heels.
The person punching in the access code to the lab is a little guy. He’s wearing blue overalls, and Bucky can hear a set of keys rattle in his pants. The guy – must be a janitor – is walking leisurely as if he’s strolling through the dark lab every night. Stark would never allow his lab to be cleaned unsupervised, and if he did, Bucky would know about it. He no longer does nightly perimeter checks but he is Head of Tower Security. He knows for a fact that cleaning personnel only comes into the lab once a week, and it's Josip from Maintenance who lets them in.
The little guy stops in front of a locker Bucky has never seen before. He opens it with one of the keys, and takes out a…
It's a vacuum cleaner. Bucky can see as much even in the dark. A perfectly normal vac, with a long tube and, okay, it's cordless, probably battery-powered. And there Bucky was sure Tony Stark had invented a cleaning robot years before Roomba. But apparently vacuuming the lab cannot be left to a robot. A chuckle makes its way up Bucky’s throat when the janitor hits the light switch. The lab is flooded with fluorescent brightness.
The little guy turns around, vacuum cleaner in tow. Blond, bones fragile like a bird's, his breathing is labored. Steve?
Bucky is on his knees, Steve’s name on his lips – what the hell happened? What the fuck is Steve doing in a cleaning job, what with his –
His head explodes. Stark’s workbenches are solid steel. At high impact, not even the Winter Soldier’s fortified skull is a match for them.
"Sergeant Barnes' DNA matches the one I have on record, Sir. The discrepancy I noticed does not concern the physical body of Sergeant Barnes but his prosthesis."
"Looks perfectly normal to me, JARVIS. Just like after the last update."
Tony fucking Stark is rummaging around in Bucky's arm with a screwdriver. Bucky would love to punch him in his unshaven jaw. But he's strapped to a lab chair with iron bands that remind him of nothing as much as the irons Hydra used to keep the Winter Soldier in check. With all his strength he tries to tear his arm away, the right one, because the left one is out of commission. But the clamps won't budge.
"James, Goddammit, keep still. You know we have to check up on anyone JARVIS considers a threat."
"I'm. Not a. Fucking. Threat," Bucky brings out through clenched teeth.
Stark looks up from whatever he is doing to Bucky's arm, grins his toothy grin, and pats Bucky on the hand, the metal one. "JARVIS," he says, "put up the scan."
A diagram of Bucky's arm appears in the air. He's familiar with the image from his bi-monthly check-ups.
"Now the scan from five weeks ago, JARVIS."
Another image snaps into existence. Blue lines delineate the shape of his arm, the metal bones, the gears and gadgets inside. The electrical circuits are a lighter blue, the chips shine green. For a moment Bucky let's himself observe his arm as if something had been altered, as if he actually had been tampered with, without his knowledge. But the arm looks like it has looked for the last four years, ever since the last big operation.
They all stare at the two diagrams now. Natasha stands on his right side, opposite Stark. Bucky has the odd feeling she's about to take his hand, the flesh one. Banner is hovering near the large windows, behind the row of monitors. Clint sent him there right after Bucky came to – half-conscious and strapped into a fucking lab chair. Bucky's never seen Clint take charge like this. Now he steps closer to the images and studies them, a look of concern on his face. He is dressed casually, like Bucky knows him, untied sneakers, jeans and his usual hoody with the Stark logo. But something about the way Clint holds himself is different.
"They look the same to me," Clint says.
"May I direct your attention to the area just underneath the head of the humerus, Mr. Barton."
Mister Barton? If he wasn't so pissed Bucky would crack up. Somebody must have messed with JARVIS; he never calls Clint by his last name. Clint hates it, something about his circus past he doesn't want to be reminded of. This is the moment Wilson would come up with a funny quip but Wilson isn't here. Sam's in D.C. for the week, on veterans' admin business.
There is no sign of Steve.
And Clint does not react to JARVIS' odd address. Neither of them do. They all look at the diagram floating in the air, at the place just underneath Bucky's shoulder. JARVIS has it now outlined in red.
Something twists in Bucky's stomach. "Where is Steve?" he asks.
"What kind of chip is this, JARVIS?" Clint says.
The chip is set into the metal bone right where it connects to the metal scapula. For all Bucky knows it's always been there, controlling the movement of the upper arm.
"It's a chip with four high-performance cores and two energy-efficiency cores, for increased speed." Stark points with the screwdriver, here and there.
"And here?" Clint points to the other diagram, the one from their scan just now. There's another chip, also outlined in red. Bucky squints, and shit, the thing does look different.
"This chip's larger," Stark says. He does something with his stupid screwdriver in Bucky's opened left wrist. Bucky feels nothing, but an electric current fizzles up his arm. On the first diagram, the circuitry connecting chip and plating light up. "And I know for a fact that I replaced this one with a new tredec-core chip when we upgraded the arm." He shoots Bucky a questioning look.
Bucky has no memory of a chip replacement. Which means nothing. He tries not to think too hard about the chips and wiring inside of his arm. It's his fucking arm. He comes to Stark for repairs when it's broken. And yes, sometimes Stark works on it, and afterwards some unacknowledged pain is gone. Or a movement Bucky didn't even register suddenly feels easier, smoother. Bucky rather dwells on the arm's strength and flexibility than on all the little ways it's not as natural as his other one. He shrugs and turns his head back to the diagrams floating in the air.
"JARVIS, highlight it," Tony says.
The single chip lights up in green. It's a small, sleek thing. Stark probably also replaced it to reduce the arm's weight. He's always going on about how the prosthesis is much too heavy. "Where is Steve?" Bucky asks again. Steve keeps better track of his arm repairs than he does. He might know.
"Steve? Did Stephen put the old chip back?" Stark taps the screwdriver against his front teeth. "But why?
Okay, what the fuck, Bucky's had enough. Stephen? He knows how to handle Stark when things get out of hand. And something definitely is not right here when Stark is so mad at Steve that he calls him Stephen.
"Tony, can I talk to Pepper for a moment?" he says quietly. He even puts a touch of thoughtfulness in his voice, as if he decided to accept that they strapped him to a fucking chair, in a fucking lab, and just remembered something he needs to discuss with Ms. Potts.
The screwdriver clatters to the floor. The humming of the mass of electronics in the lab sounds overly loud. Natasha puts her hand on Bucky's; her touch is soft, careful. Stark is staring at him.
"Ms. Potts has left Stark Industries three months ago, Sergeant Barnes. She is currently working in an advising position for the Department of Research and Innovation at the Europ–"
"Shut up, JARVIS!" Tony barks out.
Fuck. There are only two possible explanations for this: One – Candid Camera has come to Avengers Tower, and they are all messing with him. Two – the device he touched was Stark's shiny new D-beamer prototype, and Bucky's landed himself in another dimension. Bucky's pretty sure he's not lucky enough to appear on Candid Camera. But a few months ago, Stark was all about alternate timelines and parallel universes. The way he was talking you could think his dimension travel patent was mere days away. Bucky has resigned himself to the fact that when space aliens can attack New York, of course Stark will want to discover a way to travel between dimensions. But Bucky never expected it would be him who does the first experimental jump. And it has to be experimental. Because Stark lost interest in his dimension beamer research months ago, and the Avengers are back to smoking out Hydra bases in Southern America.
Natasha and Clint are trading worried glances; Stark is tapping out a slow rhythm on Bucky's arm. Bucky can practically feel how they're going through possible scenarios – has he lost his memories again, is the Winter Soldier resurfacing? Is he possessed by a fucking alien, is Loki back? Bucky needs all his will power to not tear at the clamps again. He is pretty sure he can break them. Stark has deactivated his metal arm but he is a super soldier, even though he's not as strong as Steve. He eyes the clamp around his right wrist; he knows he can break it. Just then, Bruce steps around the monitors and comes closer. Bucky forces himself to relax into the chair. If the Hulk comes out, they'll have him in cold storage in no time. Where is Steve?
"James." Clint puts his hand on Bucky's flesh shoulder.
It's a gesture he knows from Clint; he usually does it when they're on a rooftop and Bucky won't accept they missed a hit. The gesture means: Step down, bro. Cool it. Bucky takes a deep breath. Between Nat's hand and Clint's he knows they will not hurt him. Even here, in whatever parallel world this is, they are his friends.
"James," Clint says again. "I'm going to ask you a couple of simple questions. Something is wrong. We need to assess what's happening. Okay?"
Bucky nods. He'll play along until he has a better grasp on this place.
"What day is today?"
He can't be serious! "It's Friday fucking 13, for all I care," Bucky hisses.
"Sergeant Barnes is incorrect, today is –"
"JARVIS, voice off," Stark mutters. A soft click comes from the speakers that, Bucky swears, sounds insulted. "Just tell Clint the date, James."
Stark is all business again and bends down to retrieve the screwdriver from the floor. But Bucky notices how he's checking the diagrams still floating in the air. Stark is not looking at the chip that supposedly has been replaced. He's looking at the inside of Bucky's elbow where the shut-down switch is located. Tony Stark is not stupid. Of all the Avengers he knows best what Bucky is capable of. And, Bucky reminds himself, he built a functioning dimension beamer, a thing that was pure science fiction not a year ago. Stark is wearing grey sweatpants, wrinkled pink tee, dark sunglasses shoved into his messy hair – the exact same outfit he was wearing during their meeting yesterday. But something's off. Bucky can't remember ever having seen such dark shadows under Stark's eyes. His hair is too long; he looks as if he hasn't had a haircut in weeks. Pepper, Bucky thinks.
"The date, come on, James," Clint asks again.
Bucky sighs. Yesterday was Wednesday and tomorrow is Friday when Steve and he will have Sam over for dinner. Which means today – "Today is Thursday, April 11. 2019."
They all nod. It looks fucking ridiculous. But good to know that wherever he has landed himself, it's not the future or the past.
"What's the last thing you remember?" Clint asks.
"Coming to, strapped to this fucking chair!" Yes, it's silly but Bucky can't let this one go. They know how he feels about lab chairs and being strapped to them with arm clamps. Leg clamps, too. He didn't even know Stark owns a chair like this.
"Before, James?" Clint says, all patience.
He sighs again. "We were de-briefing. The Hydra base on the Falklands."
Another round of ridiculous nodding but a wave of relief washes through Bucky. He's not lucky enough for Candid Camera but at least this dimension seems to be very close to the one he's coming from.
"You,“ he nods at Nat and Stark, "were going through British intelligence. Steve and Bruce," he turns as far as he can to look at Bruce, "you were discussing politics. The new superhuman regulations the Governor of Texas proposed." Nat stares at him, more nodding from the others. Okay, here it goes. "I was bored and poked around in the stuff on the shelves. I touched this device you've hidden back with the robots, Stark. The dimension beamer."
He cannot quite turn his head this far, not when his body is secured like that. Instead he points with his chin to the corner of the lab where Dum-E and U are on standby. It's the side of the lab where Stark keeps his old Iron Man suits. There's a locker there, Bucky suddenly remembers, with a vacuum cleaner inside. Stevie... Steve before the war, before the serum. He looked so real. Hell, it's been years since he had such a vivid dream of Steve when they were young. Being zapped must have done something to his brain to trigger such an ancient memory.
"The dimension beamer?" Stark is already up and rummaging through the shelves. "There is no dimension beamer. Not here, not anywhere else in the world. Well, maybe in Japan. The Japanese have not yet published the results of their latest accelerator run. How did this device look, James? Must have been a prototype. I cannot believe you randomly fucked with something in my lab. These are highly sensitive devices."
Bucky tries to remember. What did the thing look like? "A metal disk. Looks lighter than it is. Dark grey metal, I couldn't make out what exactly. Heavy," he says. "About 24 inches in diameter. It has its own power source. Electricity, it shocked me when I touched it. A kind of gauge on top, futuristic looking. Inset panels, glass ceramic buttons, I think. It was sitting on the third shelf up, to the left."
There's a clatter back in the corner and something crashes to the floor. Stark makes an annoyed sound. "Electricity, God help me," he mutters. "There is no such device here. But if I'd developed a functioning D-beamer, it certainly wouldn't be powered by electricity."
Bucky tries to turn around again, with his full body this time. But all it earns him are burns from the clamp on the bare skin of his right arm. "Unstrap me," he grinds out, "and I'll show you."
"Tony?" Natasha has Bucky's hand in a tight grip.
Stark steps back into Bucky's view.
"JARVIS, what's your threat assessment of James here?" he says, all smug. The bastard! He's holding a model of the Millennium Falcon in his hands. It's Peter's; Bucky knows this for a fact. He definitely would remember if there had been a model of the Millennium Falcon on the shelves yesterday.
"Tony, this is serious." There is a warning tone in Clint's voice.
"What? James here said: large metal disk, heavier than it looks, 24 inches in diameter." Stark lifts the toy. "Exactly 24.6 inches."
Bucky is so sick of it. He knows the D-beamer is somewhere back there. "Where is Steve?" he asks for the third time.
Stark blinks at him and drops the Millennium Falcon on the workbench. "Stephen is in –"
"Sergeant Barnes' heart rate is elevated but well within parameters. He is armed with four knives" – thanks for nothing, JARVIS! – "but all his firearms are stored in his quarters, as by current Tower security protocol. I detect signs of agitation and stress but no hostility. Estimated threat level at thirty-five percent, which is acceptable. I would advise to unstrap him from the chair to prevent further trauma."
And thank you, JARVIS, for remembering that he does not well around lab chairs.
"Okay." Stark pushes a couple of buttons on a remote control Bucky hasn't even noticed yet. Immediately all four iron bands click open.
Bucky is half out of the chair when he realizes the metal arm is still deactivated and open at the wrist. He looks around for the fucking screwdriver.
"Sorry," Stark mutters. He pokes around in the arm with the screwdriver, and it immediately powers up. Bucky snaps the plating of the wrist compartment in place.
He raises the arm, he makes a fist – it moves and feels like it always does. He lets out a long breath.
Nat quickly rubs the soft spot between his thumb and forefinger, then withdraws her hand. Bucky gives her a grateful look and finally gets up and out of the fucking chair. But he can no longer let this slide. It's the one thing that makes no sense at all. So he landed himself in another dimension. A dimension where Clint is in charge and JARVIS calls him Mister Barton; a dimension where Stark calls Steve Stephen. Somewhere on the shelves behind him lies the damn D-beamer and soon he will press another button and be catapulted back into his own world. But he cannot just leave. Not yet. Something is eerily wrong in this dimension, and it has to do with Steve.
"Where is Steve, Stark?" he asks.
"He's in Hong Kong. In the Sanctum." Stark eyes him suspiciously. "And why do you keep calling him Steve?"
Now everyone is giving him strange looks.
Stark turns to Clint. "He's clearly suffered brain damage. How did you find him again? And what was he doing in my lab at seven in the fucking morning?"
Clint shrugs. "JARVIS alerted me. James was lying unconscious under this table." He points at the workbench. "Looked to me as if he had crawled underneath, got up too fast and knocked himself out."
He grins at Bucky who touches his temple where, yep, now that he can concentrate on something other than getting out of the chair, he can feel a bump the size of a chestnut. He did knock himself out. But he never crawled underneath that bench.
Without a word Bucky walks towards the corner, pats Dum-E on the head as he passes, and lets his gaze wander over the shelves. Third from the bottom. There's the empty space from where Stark took the Millennium Falcon, but the D-beamer is not here. He checks systematically one shelf after the other, kneels down on the floor and looks at – the Shield.
There is no dust, no tarnish. The red, white and blue is as bright as if the Shield was brand spanking new. Bucky yanks it out, slides it onto the metal arm and spins around.
He confronts the Avengers face-on. "Are you going to tell me now where you've been hiding Captain America?"
It's the first time, in all the long years he's known her, that he sees Nat's chin drop. She moves closer to Clint – pure protective instinct, Bucky thinks. Clint has his hand at his ear, adjusting his hearing aid. Bruce, always the quiet guy, their voice of reason, simply stares.
And Stark – fucking Stark explodes into a fit of giggles.
"Captain," he wheezes, literally wheezes, "A-fucking-Murica? That's a good one, James, I give you that." More wheezing laughter. Stark's stupid face is turning red. "Right up there with Captain Britain." He wipes tears from his eyes. "Captain America. Brilliant, seriously brilliant. Did you and the Howlies make that up back when you were traipsing around Europe? It does sound like something the Greater Generation would have –"
"Shut it, Stark!" Clint steps between them, hands raised.
Nat is at Bucky's side; he has no idea how she got there.
"This is Steve's Shield," Bucky wants to scream but his voice has gone hoarse. "His Captain America Shield. And I wish he'd left it at the bottom of the Potomac where the fucking thing belongs. But he got it back, and he never leaves the Shield behind, no matter where he goes. Where is he?"
The robots in the back are softly whirring. It feels as if they're moving closer.
The shadows under Stark's eyes seem even darker than before. "You're serious," he says. "That's..." He points at the Shield on Bucky's arm. "Howard developed it during World War Two. A prototype. Something to do with the super soldier program." He swallows. "It's made from Vibranium, which is why I kept it. But it was never used. Too rare and expensive for regular army issue."
Bucky lowers the Shield. Stark does not sound as if he's lying. And Bucky must look like he's lost his marbles, in attack stance, the Shield on his arm.
"There is only one person named Steve associated with the Avengers." Bruce talks slowly, quietly. "His name is Stephen Strange."
It's the weirdest name. So at odds with a run-of-the-mill name like Steve Rogers Bucky wants to laugh. But he can't. He cannot face what Bruce means, cannot let himself think it.
"James," Nat says who never called him James, not even back in Russia. Yakiv, Soldat, Barnes, but never James. "There is no Captain America here."
Bucky leaves Stark's lab, leaves Avengers' Tower. He needs fresh air, needs to walk, he needs to be alone and think. Stark and Nat didn't want to let him go, and JARVIS advised to keep him locked up in the Tower. But Clint just nodded, didn't even make Bucky promise to return, and simply waved him good-bye. And apparently, in this world, it's Clint who has the last word on things like this. Things like leading the Avengers. Things like the former Winter Soldier trading places with his counterpart in another universe.
He's walking up Fifth Avenue. The damage from the Chitauri attack is still noticeable everywhere. But just like at home, new buildings have appeared where not that long ago only rubble filled the holes in the ground. New York recovers, always, and New Yorkers provide what's important in life in this dimension, too: Bucky finds the sushi joint where he's been fed soup ever since his first days in the city. He finds his favorite coffee shop down in Grand Central Station.
Sipping coffee from a paper cup, Bucky wonders how James is doing. Here, they strapped Bucky into a fucking chair. Does Stark at home even own such a thing? And why hasn't he long sent James back? Bucky doesn't want to think of it but everything here reminds him of home, and what if he can not go back. What if Stark's prototype only worked this once, and it's just Bucky's bad luck to get stuck in a place where he doesn't belong.
He walks and walks and eventually enters Central Park where he strolls along the shoreline of the Harlem Meer. Steve and him run here in the mornings, they listen to free music in the summer, they get ice cream, they make out. One memorable afternoon they made love in a secluded spot between a boulder and the swaying branches of a weeping willow. Steve, Bucky thinks, will not leave him here. Steve will make sure that Stark gets him home. Whatever it takes and no matter what is happening in his world right now.
He takes a deep breath. There's a chill in the air but it's faint, the mere memory of a long winter. On the North Meadow there are tulips everywhere. The trees shimmer green and pink and brilliantly white. Their smell accompanies him as he leaves the park at the 97th Street exit.
On Central Park West Bucky runs face-first into a billboard with an image of the Howlies. Dirty, boisterous soldiers in patched-up uniforms, with old-fashioned gear, and his grinning mug right in the middle. There's an exhibition at the New York Historical Society, and this is where he goes to find out more – not about himself but about Steve.
When he steps into the museum, he wants to call it a déjà vu. But the exhibition is so different from the one he stumbled into five years ago – back in Washington D.C., at the Smithsonian, when he barely knew his name and was looking for answers he had no questions for.
It's a smaller display, part of a general exhibition about the Second World War. The walls are white, the lighting bright. There are no interactive scales for kids to measure their height. There are no heroic displays of soldiers at war. The Howlies' colorful uniforms, definitely not standard issue, are displayed behind glass. Bucky always had a soft spot for his famous blue jacket, and he smiles at the replica. There's Dum Dum's bowler hat, there's Dernier's red beret. There's Jim's dog tags and a brittle, browned document listing Gabe's formidable language skills – bastard spoke five languages including Russian. There's an antique detonation device looking just like the ones Dernier used to set off bombs from a distance. There's their old radio.
Two more visitors are in the room but they rush through the exhibit in under two minutes. A museum guard is standing at the door, an elderly brown-skinned woman in sensible flat shoes. She watches Bucky closely as he takes his time reading the small print on the notes in the display cases. The Howling Commandos exhibit, he has a feeling, is not exactly popular with the crowds.
Tucked alongside a map of all the Hydra bases they destroyed, there is the story of the Red Skull and Zola. And here Bucky discovers a reference to the United States Super Soldier program. In this dimension, they gave the serum to a guy named Hodgeson. Bucky hates him on sight for no other reason than that he is not Steve. The idiot made a name for himself, joining Colonel Bendetsen's 'One drop of blood'-campaign for the internment of Japanese-Americans. Bucky thinks of Jim, and how he loved a place called Joshua Tree and could wax poetic about the sun setting over Fresno. Hell, Jim Morita was more American than Bucky is now, after seventy years of Russia in his soul. He checks the entire exhibit but there's nothing more on the Super Soldier program. Hodgeson never made it to the European theatre. Bucky suspects he became a lab rat, just like the brass back then had planned for Steve.
And then he's sitting on a bench in a darkened room, watching a documentary. It's Peggy talking about the rescue of the "man who would later become my husband" – belatedly Bucky realizes she means Gabe – and how she and Howard Stark had discovered the prisoners in Azzano on a surveillance flight. The two of them practically forced Colonel Philips to move in with a battalion of trained men who would later become the army division supporting the Howling Commandos.
The last wall has been painted black and there, Bucky sees his own face, much like in the Smithsonian exhibit. It's even the same black and white picture of him. He looks like a movie star from the thirties. After a year of therapy, Bucky can admit that he was a handsome fella once (before the war, before Hydra). But he never looked quite the tragic romantic hero the picture makes him out to be. He stands before the wall and the accompanying words, and is reminded of the first time he read his name, his real name, again.
A Fallen Comrade
Brooklyn-born James Barnes enlisted in the Army to become the member of an elite, highly trained unit that set standards in the US military for decades to come.
Born in 1916, Barnes grew up the oldest child of four. An excellent athlete who also excelled in the classroom, Barnes enlisted in the Army shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor. After winter training at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, Barnes and the rest of the 107th shipped out to the Italian front. Captured by Hydra troops later that fall, Barnes endured long periods of isolation, deprivation and torture. But his will was strong. His prison camp was liberated by S.S.R. Agent Margaret Carter and weapons contractor Howard Stark, the two individuals who would later found SHIELD.
Barnes and an interracial group of his fellow prisoners formed the infamous Howling Commandos. Barnes’ marksmanship was invaluable to the war effort and his team destroyed Hydra bases and disrupted Nazi troop movements throughout the European Theater. He was killed in action during the winter of 1944, the only Howling Commando to sacrifice his life in the Great War.
Bucky suspects there are just as many lies and half-truths in this text as there are in the one in the Smithsonian exhibit. He squints at the plate, and seriously, even here they cannot fucking settle on which year he was born? Bucky needs to talk to this James guy, and perhaps the two of them can, for all the dimensions out there, convince the world that Sergeant fucking Barnes was born in the year of the Lord 1917! But when he considers the exhibit as a whole, one thing is clear: The story of the Winter Soldier has not become public knowledge in this dimension, either. Killed in action. James Barnes is just as dead to his world as Bucky is to his.
When he's ready to leave, he smiles at the guard who's still watching him very closely. So closely, in fact, that Bucky wonders whether she's recognized him. He's clean-shaven now, and it makes his face look even more like the dead hero on the wall. But then she returns his smiles and focuses on the ruckus a visiting school-class is making in the next room.
Bucky looks around one last time. There's no mention of a Steven Rogers in the whole exhibit, there's no wooden shield, no leather jacket. Not a word about the Star-Spangled Man with a Plan.
Sunlight streams in through the tall windows, the room is airy and bright. But Bucky still searches for a white star painted on a shield or woven into the breast-plate of a uniform. He cannot help feel something's horribly amiss. He cannot imagine living in a world without Steve. And he wonders how James does it.