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Fragments of a Shattered Mind

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"I want to be held and told my name. I want to be valued, in ways that I am not; I want to be more than valuable. I repeat my former name; remind myself of what I once could do, how others saw me."

Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid's Tale


Washington, D.C., 2014

The Asset stares at the Potomac river and the helicarriers that have erupted in flames. There are helicopters flying around, some of them missing a few blades. The building that once was known as the Triskelion is partially demolished, and there is smoke covering the blue sky.

Next to the Asset, a man lies unconscious. His lip is bloody, his nose is broken, and his right eye is bruised. His heart is still beating. That is all that matters.

The Asset does not know who this man is aside from the fact that he is a target, and he is known as Captain America. In the Asset’s thoughts, he remembers a man named Steve Rogers. Steve Rogers is skinny and weak, but he has the same blond hair and the same blue eyes as Captain America.

According to Captain America, he is also Steve Rogers. The Asset is unsure of what to do with this information.

Something explodes beyond the Potomac river again. The Asset pulls himself out of thoughts he should not be having, and he stares across the river. All the helicarriers are down. 

Mission Status: Unsuccessful, he thinks, and he flinches at the thought. His handlers had tasked him with the mission to protect all the helicarriers.

He was not supposed to fail.

And yet he has.

The Asset finds that he has no desire to go back to his handlers because of this. It is only a matter of time before whoever has come after HYDRA will come after his handlers. They will all die.

He does not know what to feel—often, he does not need to think about what to feel because his handlers tell him. No one tells him what to feel now. To call it freedom is cruel.

Something else explodes.

Unsuccessful.

The word rings in his mind. It begins as a soft whisper, first, a dull reminder of what he has done and what he has failed to accomplish, then the reminder becomes much louder, and it becomes a piercing scream in his mind.

Unsuccessful.

The word is familiar. It should not be—not when the Asset has not failed before.

Yet it is.

So perhaps he has failed before.

He looks down at Steve Rogers. The man will be fine, he thinks, and the Asset is not prepared to interact with him.

So instead, he turns to leave.

He has one place in his mind. One place that seems to also be attached to the word unsuccessful.

Bucharest.


Bucharest, 2014

The Asset finds a lady who gives him an apartment with a kitchen and bathroom. In exchange for this, he gives her money that he raided from one of HYDRA’s stations in Siberia. He offers her more money than the apartment costs. In return, she does not ask for his name.

The room has a lot of light filtering inside. Too much. He does not like it. He boards the windows up with newspaper. Some light still filters through, but he cannot see the world through the windows, and so the world cannot see him. There is comfort in that.

The Asset learns that his name is James Buchanan Barnes. He also learns that James Buchanan Barnes used to go by Bucky. These are not things that he learns of his own volition. He learns it instead through a book that he finds in a stall situated in the corner of a street. He buys the book with HYDRA’s money because on its cover smiles the face of Steve Rogers. The Asset did not expect to see his own face in the book as well.

There is a part in the book between the sections labeled Steve Rogers and James Buchanan Barnes where a page has been torn. He thinks it is the first page that discusses James Buchanan Barnes because the page after that starts mid-sentence.

He wonders if he should start going by Bucky.

He remembers going by many names. His handlers call him Asset most of the time. They also call him Soldier or refer to him as the Winter Soldier. Sometimes, when they are particularly irritated, some handlers call him bitch. He is not attached to any of those names.

Perhaps Bucky is a name that he can call himself since he does not have his handlers to tell him what name to respond to anymore.

He tries to call himself James, too, just to see if one fits him better than the other. But when he whispers James out loud in the confines of his room, his head throbs and pain shoots through his nerves. It feels like being in the chair again.

He goes by Bucky.


The first person to hear his new name is the lady who had given him his apartment. She had told him on their first day that her name is Elena. A month later, he decides it is his turn to tell her his.

He walks out his apartment and sees her unlocking her door—they stay on the same floor. He does not smile when she does.

“My name is Bucky,” he says in Romanian, voice quiet and rough. He tucks his hands in his pockets where two knives are hidden. He does not think that she will lash out at him for picking a name for himself, but he does not want to take chances.

Elena stares at him and the smile does not fade from her face. She nods. “It’s nice to meet you, Bucky.” 

He does not know what to do next. The air is tense but she is not, so that means all of the tension is from him. He should leave.

“Thank you,” is what he says. “For—for the apartment.”

She tilts her head. She is no longer smiling. That is not a good sign. “Will you be leaving?”

“No.” Has he ruined it already? He swallows. “I only wanted to—sorry. Thank you.”

“Hey, it’s alright,” Elena says. She smiles again. “If you ever want to stay over for some dinner, you’re welcome to.” She points to her door.

Bucky nods. “Thank you,” he says again. Then he turns around and goes back to his apartment.  


Bucky reads the book over and over. Not everything is correct—a lot of the things about his and Steve’s personal lives are wrong. But knowing they are wrong means that he is remembering.

He writes his memories down in a notebook he keeps next to his mattress. He writes about meeting Steve in an alley. He writes about the panic he felt when he‘d been drafted into war. He writes about accidentally shooting one of his comrades in the foot during his sniper training. He writes about a few jokes he remembers sharing with the Howling Commandos.

Some of the memories make him laugh. Some of them make him avoid sleep for a few days. Some of them do not make him feel anything.

Sometimes, he wonders if any of them are true. There is a chance that he is delusional—that all these things that he thinks he remembers are not even his memories at all.

He writes them all down anyway. He clings onto the hope that he had a life in the past, and that what his mind shows him are fragments of it.


His fall from the train is not actually something that he remembers well. He reads it in the book first, and he does not remember it instantly. Then when he does, all he remembers from it is Steve‘s expression as he holds his hand out to try and grab Bucky. Then he remembers the metal bending under his weight and giving in.

After that, he may have blacked out.

He does not know if that is a good thing.

What he does remember is waking up in snow with his left arm missing as he is dragged away. He remembers thinking that he is being saved.

He wishes he doesn’t remember.  


One morning, he decides that he is sick of water. It has been decades since he had tasted any other liquid. He does not remember the taste of juice or tea or coffee.  

He walks to the grocery store. The first aisle that he visits has a box of teabags. He spends quite a while staring at it. There are too many choices—boxes of different colors and shades that indicate different types of tea. Why can’t tea just be tea?

Bucky huffs in frustration.

He closes his eyes and reaches out. His fingers curl around one of the boxes and he snatches it off the shelf, turns around, then looks at it. It’s a green box labeled Green Tea. Fitting.

He doesn’t turn back around to check the other boxes. He will only end up questioning his own decision even further.

Then he does the same thing when he reaches the shelf with different types of coffee too. He hugs both the tea and coffee to his chest, clutching on to them like someone will take it away if he loosens his grip.

No one will take it away, he reminds himself. There is no one around to take it away. Not anymore.

Despite this reminder, he still holds on.

When he reaches the refrigerated area with all the juice, he grabs a pack of orange juice first (there is, thankfully, only one brand available), then walks to the next refrigerator. Only the top shelf has drinks. On the bottom, there are ready-made cakes.

The chocolate cake catches his eye. He stares at it, unblinking, and suddenly he’s not in a grocery store anymore.

Suddenly, he’s in Brooklyn with his sister next to him as he pushes her face down on the chocolate cake that their mother had bought for her birthday. He laughs.

His sister shrieks and looks up. She wipes her face, and Bucky can now see her features clearly.

He gasps, takes a step back, and then he’s back in Romania.

The cake sits still in front of him, unperturbed.

He knows that face. It has appeared in his memories once before.

The Winter Soldier had bathed it in blood.

Bucky’s hand grips the handle of the refrigerator so tightly, it snaps in half. He remembers, then, what his parents look like. What the rest of his sisters look like. He swallows and tries to steady his breathing.

No one else is in the aisle, at least.

He slams the refrigerator door shut. It wobbles under the force. Even then, he can still see the cake through the clear glass. Becca’s scream is resounding. So is his mother’s pleading. He sees his father’s face when he closes his eyes.

He doesn’t close his eyes.

He thinks of leaving immediately. He thinks of leaving all the other things he came here to buy so he can get out and go home.

But the boxes in his hands have been flattened under his tight grip, and his fingers had managed to poke a hole through the tea box. This will mean that the grocery store will not be able to sell it anymore, and that will be his fault.

With shaky legs and barely-contained breaths, he walks over to the cashier. There is no line, which is a small mercy.

He sets down the items and pulls out the money. The cashier doesn’t ask him anything, and she doesn’t bother to make small talk.

Checking the items out is a quick process and soon enough, he finds himself back in his apartment. He throws all his things on the floor next to his mattress and sits down with his face buried in his hands. He wants to cry, but there are no tears that come to him yet. His heart is hollow, and he wishes that all his memories are false. He wishes that they are all lies created by his brain to fill out the gaps in his past.

But this is real. He knows it.  

The shock is familiar, like he has remembered his family’s death once before. He wonders how many times HYDRA made him forget. How many times has he had to relearn this information? Will this be the last?

He wants to forget it again. He wants to forget and never remember.

“I’m sorry,” he whispers even though no one can hear him. He rocks back and forth, and his fingers press against his forehead where a dull ache has already begun. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”

When he finally calms down a little, he does not sleep for three weeks.


“Are you okay?” Elena asks when she sees Bucky coming into the apartment building with canned food. He had run out two days ago. His mind is hazy. Everything is too bright, and he feels exhausted.

“I’m okay,” Bucky lies. He nods at her and goes back to his apartment.


When he finally sleeps, he wishes he hadn’t. But he is also thankful that he did. Sleep gives him memories of his family, both wanted and unwanted.

Bucky wakes up with damp cheeks and a tear-stained pillow. He sits up and wipes his eyes with his shirt.

This is the first time he has cried. The image of his fifteen-year-old self throwing his sister into the air is still vivid in his mind.

Bucky leaves his apartment and buys a pack of cigarettes.

The cigarette itself does nothing to calm him down, but the action is comforting. Familiar. He remembers that Steve used to smoke to help with his asthma. Bucky used to steal packs of cigarettes for him when Steve couldn’t afford it.

He writes all of this in his notebook.


Bucharest, 2015

The first time he takes Elena up on the offer for dinner, it is months later and is because he is out of rice. He thinks he is ready for more interaction. There are things that still confuse him, but he remembers that he used to be very good at socializing.

Maybe it is a skill he still possesses.

He knocks on her door, with his gloved metal hand. In his flesh hand he carries juice. It is rude, he remembers, to visit someone’s home without bringing anything. He hopes she likes orange juice.

Elena opens the door with a confused expression that morphs into delight. “Bucky!” she exclaims. It is too joyful a reaction to the sight of him.

Domnisoara,” he says and lifts the pack of juice. “May I have dinner with you?”

“Oh!” She opens the door wider and motions him inside. “Feel free. I didn’t expect you today, so I’ll have to cook more, if you’re okay with waiting?”

She talks a lot, Bucky thinks as he enters her apartment. It is better that way. It means that he won’t have to.

Though he realizes that she has asked a question. Questions warrant an answer.

“I can wait,” he says. He puts the juice pack on the table. In front of the dining table, there is a television. He sees Steve Rogers on a stage with reporters in front of him. He says something about doing the best that they could given the circumstance and then the report cuts to a shaky footage of landmass being lifted up into the air.

Bucky furrows his eyebrows. “What happened?”

Elena looks at the screen. “The Avengers.”

Bucky blinks. “Who are the Avengers?”

The look she gives him is odd. This is something that he is supposed to know. He does not know it. In his apartment, he owns no television. All he has is the book about Steve Rogers. Beyond that, he knows almost nothing about the world, and he has not tried to find out. The information in the book is overwhelming enough.

“A team of superheroes,” Elena says after a moment.

“Including Steve Rogers?”

She glances back at the screen. The clip has shifted back to Steve talking. “Yes.”

“What did the Avengers do?”

“They built a robot that tried to destroy the human race,” she says.

“They built themselves a robot? To fight?” It sounds ridiculous. Why would anyone want to create their own enemy?

“I don’t think fighting it was their intention, but it is what happened, yes.”

Bucky does not say anything. He stares at the screen. It feels like he should do something. It feels like he should’ve been there. The story of Sokovia flying into the skies and disintegrating strikes him as familiar, and he cannot figure out why.

“It’s a miracle we didn’t feel the ground shake here,” Elena says. She heats up something on the stove. “Sokovia is nearby. Oh, the poor people. So many casualties.”

Bucky watches the report. Someone else is discussing what had happened. Steve is no longer on-screen. He frowns. “They’re saying that they managed to transfer people onto helicarriers before the city was destroyed.”

“Well, they did, but some of the rubble that fell still crashed onto buildings or streets nearby. Also”—she turns to look at him, and her expression is pitiful—“not everyone made it out of the city in the first place.”

“How many—how many died?” And he does not know why he is so curious. People die all the time. This is one of the more unusual ways to go, but for someone who used to be the Winter Soldier—someone who has a kill count of over three hundred people—it should not be a point of fixation.

“We’re not sure. I did hear that one of their royal families were wiped out. I think it was a baron’s. Only one survived.”

A baron.

Bucky looks away from the screen and walks over to one of the chairs. When he pulls it back, his fingers dig into the backrest, leaving a small dent. He clenches his jaw.

The chair screeches against the floor.

A baron.

His head hurts.

“Are you okay?” Elena asks. She sets down a bowl in front of him.

“Yes,” Bucky says and sits down. It is a lie, but she need not know that. “I have—I have headaches. Sometimes. It’s a normal thing.”

She looks at the television and changes the channel. He is unsure if he is grateful for that or not.

“I have pain relievers, if you want.”

He knows that normal drugs will not affect him in any way, but he still nods. “Okay.” He takes the bowl and drags it towards himself. “Thank you.”

“Of course. Any time.” She sits next to him and begins to talk about her husband who is currently out of town. She does not seem to mind that Bucky’s responses are limited and his mind is stuck in a dark echo chamber of pain and memories he cannot retrieve. He nods when she laughs, and he responds with ‘yes’ or ‘no’ when appropriate.

It is, overall, a nice experience.


One morning, he finally makes use of the tea.

Tea bags fortunately do not expire easily. Otherwise, he may have just wasted his money by ignoring the box of tea he has had on his counter for a few months now.

He dunks the tea bag in the hot water and lifts the cup to his lips. Before he drinks, he pauses. There is a small voice at the back of his head huffing and saying you were supposed to wait.

There is a small saucer inside his cupboard. He takes it and puts it on top of the cup, though he does not know why he does it.

Then, he waits.


The next morning, a family moves in next door.

Bucky, coming back from the grocery, stares at them in the hallway. A little boy is struggling to carry a box in his arms, and he nearly trips.

He walks over to them before he can overthink it.

“Hello,” he says, and he tries his best to smile. Smiling, he found out, is a way to signal to other people that he means no harm.

The boy’s parents look terrified of his smile. He quickly wipes it off.

“Do you want some help?” he asks the boy.

The boy looks up at him, eyes barely peeking out from the top of the box. He nods.

Bucky takes the box from him, and in his arms, it is light. He hefts it over his shoulder and looks back at the parents. “I can bring it inside?”

“Oh, thank you,” the mother says. He follows them to their apartment and sets the box down inside, near the doorway.

“Do you need help with more boxes?”

“That would be nice, actually,” the father says. He smiles at Bucky, and when he smiles it’s sincere. “You sure you have the time?”

Bucky nods.

The father smiles. “My name is Andrei Cazacu, by the way. My wife, Maria, and my son, Adrian.”

“I’m Bucky.”  

“It’s nice to meet you, Bucky.”


Bucharest, 2016

Bucky buys plums because they are supposed to help with his memory. He is not sure if they really do, but he still buys them anyway. At least then he can feel like he is doing something to help himself.

On his fifth trip outside to buy plums, someone looks at him weird.

He clutches his paper bag in his hand and watches the man across the street assess him before running away, leaving the newspaper he’d been reading. Bucky clenches his jaw and walks across the street to look at the paper.

The report says that he bombed the United Nations building in Vienna. He knows that that is not true. Yet they have evidence of it. His photograph stares back at him.

Someone is going to come for him soon.


When Bucky gets back to the apartment building, he knocks on Elena’s door first. He’s not sure if she knows yet or if she’s seen the news, but that is not his main concern.

Elena opens the door. She does not look terrified of him.

“Elena,” Bucky says. He looks behind him to make sure that soldiers have not entered the building yet. “You have to leave today.”

Elena frowns. “What?”

“Go to the park. Or a mall. Anywhere but this building, okay? You can come back tomorrow, but not—it’s dangerous. Please.”

“Bucky—”

“Please. Please. We don’t have time, just—”

“Okay, okay,” Elena says. She puts a hand on Bucky’s shoulder. “I’ll leave. I just have to know—is this the last time I’ll see you?”

Bucky swallows. He might be dead in a few days. “Yes. Maybe.”

She doesn’t say anything. Instead, she wraps him in a tight hug and pats the back of his head. “Take care of yourself, okay?” she murmurs.

“I’ll try,” Bucky says. “Thank you. For everything.”

He goes to the Cazacu’s and knocks on their door too. Andrei opens it, and when he sees Bucky, he is scared. He has seen the news. Bucky does not blame him for his fear.

“I’m sorry,” Bucky says. “You have to—you should leave for the day. Take your family.”

Andrei says nothing. He stares at Bucky, trying to understand him, but there is nothing to be understood. He nods curtly and shuts the door. Bucky hopes that he’ll heed the warning.

When Bucky enters his own apartment, Steve Rogers is already inside.


Berlin, 2016

There are plenty of things that remind Bucky of his time with HYDRA. Metal chairs and doctors happen to be two of those things.

He can barely move his head to look around and all his limbs are restrained. The cage that holds him does not serve any other purpose other than to reinforce the idea that he is a weapon that needs to be contained. They are not wrong about this.

The guards that carried him into the room exit, and for a few moments he is alone. There is a surveillance camera in the corner of the room, and he does his best not to stare at it. That is something they might consider to be an aggressive response.

He’s tired of being aggressive. He will comply if that means leaving this place faster.

The psychiatrist enters the room. Bucky takes a deep breath and watches as the man sets up his belongings on the table. Then the psychiatrist looks up, straight at Bucky, and pain pulses through Bucky’s head again. He stares at the man, tries to identify him, but no memory surfaces, only familiarity.

“Hello, Mr. Barnes,” the psychiatrist says, “do you mind if I take a seat?”

His voice is familiar, too. Bucky continues to stare, tries to will his mind to remember, but the more he forces himself, the less likely it will work. Bucky’s metal hand clenches into a fist. Who is this man?

“Do you know where you are, James?”

Bucky frowns. He’s heard that voice say James before. The tone is comforting even if the situation is anything but.

“You’re familiar,” he says, eyes darting around, trying to figure out why. Is this man a handler? He remembers most of his handlers. This man is not one of them. “I’ve seen you before.” His voice is hoarse.

The man tilts his head. “Surely you have not.”

Bucky falters. If he’s wrong about this, how many more memories is he wrong about?

Maybe he remembers a man with a similar facial structure or voice. That is also a plausibility.

Then the man uses Bucky’s trigger words against him, and all comfort he feels from the man’s voice disappears.


En Route to Siberia, 2016

“He was familiar,” Bucky says once they are inside the jet on their way to Siberia.  He fiddles with the seatbelt and leans back. Steve is sitting in front of him.

Steve glances at him briefly. “Who was?”

“The psychiatrist who asked me about the Winter Soldier Program.” Bucky looks at his lap. “I—I knew him from somewhere. I just… I don’t know where.

Steve frowns. “One of HYDRA’s missions?”

“No,” Bucky says. He shakes his head, though Steve can’t see him. “He doesn’t know who I am.”

“Maybe you remember someone who looked like him?”

Bucky has considered this. He shrugs. “Maybe,” he says, but it feels wrong.

“Maybe,” Steve echoes, because there is nothing else that he can do about Bucky’s memories. There is nothing either of them can do.

It is then that Bucky remembers the notebook of memories he kept in his backpack. The government had taken that away from him. He wonders if he still remembers everything that he had written in it.

They probably won’t give it back anymore.

He hopes no one else will read it.

“Steve.”

“Yeah?”

Bucky looks out the window. From here, he can hear the gentle hum of the engine. “I remember—I remember you used to draw.”

Steve risks looking back, and Bucky can see a small, proud smile on his lips. “I did, Buck. You remember.”

Bucky licks his lips and takes a deep breath. Is this the best time to do this? Maybe he should’ve done it earlier before Steve turned against the government for him. He looks at the clouds outside. It’s better to do it now before Steve risks his life more.

“I remember other things, too.”

Steve nods, encouraging. He faces forward again to continue piloting the jet. “Like what?”

“I remember—” Bucky clears his throat. His flesh hand trembles. “Becca.”

“Oh, Becca.” Steve knows Becca too, of course. The three of them had been very close, especially when they were younger. Steve used to come over his place a lot. “She was real lovely, Buck, do you remember the time she—"

“I killed her, Steve.”

Steve freezes.

“Not just her,” Bucky adds before Steve can decide on what to say. “Everyone. All my sisters. My parents. I killed them all.”

“Bucky…”

“I just—I thought you should know. You were family to them too. You have the right to know.” Bucky squeezes his thigh with his metal hand. “And you have to know what I’ve done. The things I’ve—I’m not worth all of this, Steve.”

“That was not your fault, Buck.”

“I did it, Steve. I killed them. All of them.”

“HYDRA forced you to—tortured you to. It’s not your fault.”

Bucky does not reply. Steve never pushes him to.


Siberia, 2016

Bucky watches Steve talk to the man.

His head hurts again.

Steve says the man is Sokovian. The man says that he lost everyone. The situation is achingly familiar, as if Bucky has heard of it before. Bucky lowers his gun to get a better glimpse of the man’s face even though he can only see him through a small window.

He feels like he should know this man’s name.

This man had a son too, he thinks.

Pain surges through his brain again. He closes his eyes and tightens his grip on his gun. He has no time to dwell on it, though. The screen next to him flickers to life and grainy surveillance footage of a familiar road appears.

This, he remembers.

The death of Howard and Maria Stark.

Bucky shares a look with Steve. It is clear that Steve knows what this is about, too. Bucky does not know why Steve knows.

In his shock and outrage, Tony Stark blasts Bucky with a repulsor. By the time he looks up, the man has disappeared from his small window, and Bucky has bigger problems to deal with than a memory that doesn’t exist.


Wakanda, 2016

T’Challa talks to Steve about taking the man to a prison in Berlin. Bucky sits on the medical table and listens to them. Next to him, the doctors are scanning his metal arm to find out how to take it off in the safest way possible.

“You think that a normal prison in Germany can keep in a man that intelligent?” Steve asks. “He was a black ops soldier.”

T’Challa shakes his head. “Probably not. However, he does not seem eager to leave prison. In fact, he tried to kill himself before I took him away. He only had one goal, Captain.”

“And he accomplished it.” Steve smiles wryly, arms folded. “Great.”

“As you said, he was a black ops soldier.”

“What’s his name?” Bucky finally asks.

Both men turn to look at him. Steve frowns but does not take it upon himself to answer. T’Challa looks at Steve for a moment then back at Bucky.

“Colonel Helmut Zemo,” he says.

Zemo.

Bucky looks down at the thin bedsheet he is sitting on. He clenches his jaw, and his flesh hand clutches the sheet, crumpling it under his grip. He nearly tears the cloth. His nails dig into his palm.

“Buck, you okay?” Steve asks, and his face is filled with concern.

Bucky nods stiffly. He does not trust himself to speak.

Zemo, he thinks, is associated with two things:

First, an intense headache.

Second, a severe heartache.

Bucky closes his eyes. He knows Zemo. Knew him at one point. He’s certain of it now. His mind might be all over the place, but he knows that somewhere, somehow, he knew Zemo.

“He’s a Baron,” Bucky says out loud. He remembers that, too. He looks at T’Challa, if only to avoid the confused and pained expression on Steve’s face. “Right?”

“Of Sokovia, yes,” T’Challa says. He is far less expressive than Steve is, but he appears to be concerned too.

I miss him, Bucky thinks. He does not know why. He does not say it out loud, either. They’ll think that his brain had been scrambled all over again when Zemo had used the code words. They’ll think he’s gone insane. This is a possibility, as well, but he cannot help what his heart feels. 

He misses Zemo.

He still does not know why.

His head hurts.

“Buck,” Steve says again. He has walked nearer now, and his arms are still closed. His eyebrows are furrowed. These days, he is always concerned about Bucky. Even when Bucky is safe now, he is still concerned.

“I’m fine, Stevie,” Bucky says, and he hopes that the nickname appeases him.

Steve stares at him. “Do you—do you need something? I can—”

“No, I’m fine.” Bucky smiles weakly. “Drop it, please.”

“How much longer is this going to take?” Steve asks the doctor beside Bucky. “He should get some rest soon.”

“A few more minutes,” the doctor says.

“I’m fine,” Bucky repeats.

This time, Steve doesn’t protest.


Wakanda, 2017

The goat bleats.

Bucky pats his head and continues to throw the sacks of hay into the cart. Some of the children are running around nearby, some of them have climbed the trees, laughing.

One of the kids runs towards Bucky, chased by a friend, and barrels right onto his back. The kid shrieks in delight and begins to climb up to sit on Bucky’s shoulder. Bucky lets him, guiding him with his right hand.

In this moment, life is peaceful in Wakanda.

Bucky smiles.


Wakanda, 2018

The first time that Bucky is reminded again of Zemo after he wakes up from cryostasis, it’s because one of the Wakandan children decides to watch Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.

A television doesn’t exactly fit the aesthetics of Bucky’s hut, but he likes to have it inside. It helps with the boredom. He reads as well, but sometimes he likes to tune out his mind, and watching television is the best passive way to do that.

He’s not scared of the television anymore. He likes to learn about the outside world now. The Bucky Barnes of the past had the same enthusiasm for learning too, he remembers. It is a fragment of his personality that HYDRA had not been able to rip away from him completely.

So, the children gather in his hut on a Saturday night and two of them decide to lay their heads on Bucky’s lap. They are never scared of him. For that, he is grateful.

When Snow White begins to play, Bucky’s head starts hurting again, but it hurts less than it has before. His mind is better than it was before. Shuri had made sure of that. But his head still hurts, if only a little.

He takes a deep breath and closes his eyes. I have grown fond of you as well, he hears Zemo’s voice say in his head.  

You will see the sun again.

He’s not sure if that is a trick that his brain is playing against him or if it’s an actual memory. Bucky swallows and tries to focus on the screen. Snow White is singing on-screen.

James.

I lied, James.

Bucky blinks. His breath hitches. His head is pounding now. He’s not seeing the television anymore. All he sees is blood. Blood. So much blood.

Zemo’s face covered in blood. His body pinned beneath a car.

Bucky can’t breathe.

He staggers to his feet and accidentally pushes the two kids off his lap. They look at him, confused but not hurt.

“Sorry, sorry,” he croaks out and stumbles outside of the hut. The area is dark, and he does not have to fear anyone but the animals seeing him. He bends down, rests his hand on his knee, and vomits.            

Some of the children come outside the hut.

“Mr. Bucky,” Oza says. He takes a step closer. “Are you alright?”

Bucky turns away. He doesn’t want them to see him like this. He wipes his mouth with the back of his hand and straightens his posture.

“I’m fine, kid,” Bucky says, and his voice is rough, his throat dry. He needs water. “I’m fine.”

“We can watch something else,” says Aseah. She’s a sweet one, and observant too. By now, she probably knows that Snow White had been some sort of trigger for Bucky, as odd that it might be for her.

“Actually, can we reschedule our movie night?” Bucky asks. He feels bad for asking it, but he does not think he’ll be able to sit through a two-hour movie tonight.

Someone at the back of the group starts to complain but is immediately shushed by someone else.

“It’s alright, Mr. Bucky,” Oza tells him. He comes closer and hugs Bucky tightly. “Get well soon.

“Thanks,” Bucky mumbles. He hugs Oza back.

Before the group leaves, he tells them, “Can you guys keep this a secret? Don’t—don’t tell anyone what happened.” He knows it’s a lot to ask of them, and he feels horrible the moment the words leave his mouth. “Well—”

“We will not say a word,” Aseah promises. She holds out her pinky finger.

Bucky smiles despite himself and hooks his own pinky finger around hers. “Thank you.”

He knows that there is a good chance that they might slip up, but this is the best promise that he can get from them, and he respects that.

When they leave, he trudges back into his hut and shuts the television off. He sits in his bed and opens his notebook. This notebook is not the same as the one he had in Romania. He never got those things back. This notebook is something that he had requested from Ayo when they finally overcame his programming.

In the first day that he had this notebook, he wrote down everything about his past that he could remember.

His handwriting is small, so he manages to fit plenty of it in the pages, with a few blank ones to spare.

Now, he scrawls Zemo on the top of a blank page, and below it he writes:

‘I lied, James.’ —he lied about what??

‘I have grown fond of you as well.’

‘You will see the sun again.’

Did I save Zemo from something? Why was he bleeding? He’s alive now.

He sets the notebook aside when the answers don’t come to him. This would be a nice time to sleep, he thinks, because most visual memories come to him in his dreams—this is both a good and bad thing. Some memories come as hopeful dreams that make him smile.

Most of them come as nightmares.

At least the nightmares give him answers.

Bucky lies down on his side and stares at the wall. The memory of Zemo’s face covered in blood still echoes in his mind. Suddenly he is in a car with a man of a different face and voice.

Slow down, says the man, and his voice is not Zemo’s yet his intonation and accent are the very same. Is this Zemo too? Why does he have a different face?

He has no answers for himself.

Bucky closes his eyes and wills himself to sleep.


The first thing that he writes down when he wakes up is time travel. The second thing is May 19. The third thing is 2010. Apart from that, he does not have any more information.

Steve is visiting today, so Bucky only spends a few minutes staring at his notebook, trying to figure it out. Then he closes it and shoves it underneath his pillow. Outside, he can hear the children laughing and screaming and he knows that Steve is there.

Bucky steps out of his little hut and sees Steve throwing one of the children in the air. They do this all the time; every single one of them lining up to get one go. Steve throws them higher than anyone else. Bucky, with only one arm, never tries. He’s scared that he won’t be able to catch them properly.

“Hey, Buck,” Steve says when he spots Bucky. He lowers Oza to the ground and pats his head.

Bucky waves. “Hey.”

“You alright?” Steve asks, and Bucky wonders, briefly, if the kids had told him what happened last night. But then Steve adds, “Your eyes are red.”

Bucky blinks. He must’ve been crying in his sleep. “Sorry.”

“What? No, don’t be sorry.” Steve steps forward and the kids collectively groan. He smiles at them and shakes his head, fond. “Later, okay? I have to talk to Bucky first.”

The kids whine a bit, but they’re good kids. They understand. So, they all depart to play amongst themselves.

“Steve,” Bucky says once they are alone. Steve raises an eyebrow. Bucky bites the inside of his cheek and wonders if he should ask. He does so, anyway. “Have the Avengers ever—have you travelled through time?”

Steve furrows his eyebrows. “Can’t say we have. Pretty sure that’s impossible.”

“Oh.” Bucky looks down at the ground. There’s an ant crawling over his sandal. “Okay.”

“Why’d you ask?”

“Just… I think I knew someone who did.” Bucky clenches his jaw. He doesn’t tell Steve who it is. He can’t.

“Well, I—” Steve crosses his arms. There is a frown on his face now. “I’ll tell you if I hear anything about it. You got a name?”

Bucky shakes his head.


A week later, he dreams again.

I lied, James, Zemo says. Followed by a kiss. A kiss so bloody and distressed, but beautiful, nonetheless. Bucky remembers crying. He remembers his fear and panic, but he remembers his relief and momentary happiness as well.

Bucky wakes and sits up on his bed, leaning against the wall. Loose strands of wood prick his skin, and he closes his eyes as he finally realizes why Zemo is associated with heartache. He puts a hand to his lips and tries to remember what it felt like.

I’ll try to remember, he had said.

It’s been eight years since that promise was made.

Only now, he remembers.

Bucky tilts his head back and a small laugh escapes him. Then the tiny huff bubbles into a laughter he cannot stop, and he doubles over, clutching his stomach. A small drop of a tear escapes his eye.

He’s not sure if it’s because of ecstasy or longing. He thinks it is both.


Bucky never thinks of talking about Zemo with anyone. They will not understand, and he doesn’t expect them to. To anyone who was not there in 2010, it will not make sense. To anyone who only knows Zemo as the man who ruined the Avengers, it will sound ludicrous.

But Bucky remembers a Zemo who helped him. Bucky remembers a Zemo who only cared about his family. Bucky remembers a Zemo who was in pain. Bucky remembers a Zemo who stayed for him.

He writes these things down on his notebook. Writes about Zemo killing HYDRA agents for him. Writes about the first time Zemo stopped a kiss between them. Writes about the first time Zemo allowed the kiss. Writes about Zemo apologizing.

The one thing he does not write about—even if he remembers—is what happened the moment Zemo left.

He does not want to dwell on it.


If he tells the Wakandans that he wants to leave, they will probably allow it, but he still does not know if Zemo remembers by now. He’s not sure if he wants to know the answer either. Will it hurt if Zemo looks at him with sheer indifference?

But before he can even think of the possible consequences of confronting Zemo now, T’Challa arrives with a few other Dora Milaje and members of the Royal Guard in tow. They show Bucky a briefcase with a new metal arm lined with golden plates.

War, again.

Bucky stares at the arm then looks at T’Challa. “Where’s the fight?”

“On its way,” T’Challa says.

He’ll think about Zemo next time, then. Fighting is the least that he can do to help T’Challa. The man has given him a lot.

“You need a bath first,” Okoye says. She smiles a little.

Bucky wrinkles his nose.

She’s right.


His arm is the first to go.

His fingertips tingle a little, and that is the only warning that Bucky gets before his hand turns to dust.

“Steve—” is all he manages.

Then he’s gone.

It’s like cryostasis all over again.


Upstate New York, 2023

When Bucky comes back, he finds out that they built a time machine.

He’s excited by the prospect, but he does not let his elation show. Not while most of them are still grieving. Some are grieving the loss of Tony Stark, some are grieving the loss of Natasha, and some are grieving the loss of five years of their lives.

Bucky sympathizes, but he does not really grieve quite as much. Or, at least, he never cries. He feels that he has grieved enough loss in his life. He does feel sad that Natasha is gone, though. They had formed a tentative friendship during his time in Wakanda.

What he really doesn’t grieve or care for is the time he lost. He is not shocked when he returns to a world that has drastically changed. Thawed, wiped, frozen had been the cycle of his body went through for seventy years. Five years is nothing. One time, HYDRA kept him in cryostasis for ten.

Being turned to dust is far kinder than being electrocuted and frozen.

Bucky looks around what is left of the compound. In front of him, there is a smaller version of the time machine that the Avengers had built. Steve is supposed to use it tomorrow to return the stones.

Bucky is sure this is what Zemo is going to use as well. May 19, he thinks.

That’s two months away.

“Hey, Buck,” Steve says. He doesn’t have his beard anymore. His eyes have aged, too. The loss of his two teammates has taken a toll on him. Steve had cried for two days after the war ended.

Between the people who were snapped away and the people who stayed, Bucky isn’t sure who had it worse. To him, he had only been gone for a few seconds. One moment, he saw his arm turn to dust. The next moment, he woke up in the very same grass field.

To Steve, he’d been gone for five years. Though Steve had probably expected him to be gone forever.

Now, the war is over, and Steve looks exhausted.

“You okay?” Bucky asks, though he knows it’s a stupid question.

“Yes,” Steve says. It’s a stupid answer. Steve stands next to him and shoves his hands in his pockets. He looks nervous. “We need to talk.”


When Steve goes back to Peggy Carter, Bucky doesn’t cry.

The conversation about giving the shield to Sam takes up at least fifty five percent of their talk, the other forty percent is dedicated to Steve talking about how happy he is to have Bucky back, and the other five percent… is a passing mention of Steve planning to live out the rest of his life with Peggy.

Bucky does not tell Steve that he is not a fan of the idea. His opinion is irrelevant in the matter. Steve wants this. Just this once, he deserves to be selfish. He has done so much for Bucky already; he does not have to be here to deal with the amount of trauma Bucky has. So, Bucky bites his tongue and watches him go.

Bucky isn’t sure if it’s better or worse that Steve is back in mere seconds.

Steve—the much older version of him—talks to Sam for a very long time. Sam deserves this, Bucky thinks.

He looks at Bruce Banner.

“I’ll leave them to it,” he says.

Bruce tilts his head. “You won’t stay and talk to him?”

“Maybe later,” Bucky says. This is too much for now. He takes a step back. “I’ll talk to him later.” He shoves his hands in his pockets and tries to be happy for Steve. He can’t. He wants to cry. He doesn’t.

“Hey, man,” Bruce says.

Bucky looks at him.

“Will you be alright?” Bruce asks softly. “I didn’t think that he would—”

“It’s okay,” Bucky murmurs. He doesn’t need people blaming Steve for his sake. This is something that Bucky had sort of agreed to. Steve does not owe Bucky anything. “We talked about it. It’s okay.”

Bruce stares at him for a second longer, then he finally nods.

Bucky looks back at Steve and Sam. They’re sitting on the bench now. Neither of them invites him over because this is their moment, and Bucky can accept that.

He can’t stay in the compound for now, though. Steve will surely want to speak with him sometime soon. He isn’t sure if he’s ready for that just yet.

He decides that what he wants now is to see the only other person alive who has brought him comfort in the past.

“Bruce,” Bucky says. He licks his lips and takes a deep breath. “You got a jet I can borrow?”

Bruce frowns. “What are you going to do with it?”

“I—” Bucky waves his hand in the air and shrugs. “I just want to pay someone a visit.” That is a thing he is allowed to do now. Pay people visits in different countries. The government had pardoned all the superheroes who had helped defeat Thanos. Bucky received a conditional one.

“Oh, I didn’t—” Bruce doesn’t finish that sentence, but Bucky already knows what he almost said. I didn’t know you had other friends aside from Steve.

“I do,” Bucky says, even if Bruce is right and he technically doesn’t have any. There are the Wakandans, but he would not consider them close friends. Acquaintances, maybe, like the other Avengers.

Bucky is pathetic. They all know it.

“I’m sorry,” Bruce says. He looks at Steve and Sam then back at Bucky. “I can show you the jet?”

Bucky nods. “Thank you.”


Berlin, 2023

“Helmut Zemo,” Bucky tells the prison guard operating the front desk. It is the first time he has said Zemo’s name out loud since 2010. It feels nice.

The guard looks up at him, eyebrows furrowed. “What is your name, sir?”

“Bucky Barnes,” Bucky says. The recognition dawns on her face. He grimaces. “Can you—can you not tell him who it is first? I’d like to tell him myself.”

“Well”—she types something down on her computer then glances back up at him—“he is still in the courtyard at the moment. His time there is until 3 p.m.”

Bucky looks at the clock right behind her. That’s forty-five minutes away. He leans forward and tries: “Do you do courtyard visitations?”

“No,” she says. His heart sinks. Then she adds, “However, if you need to ask him something regarding an Avengers-related issue, we may be able to make an exception.”

“Oh.” Then he realizes that she has just offered him an opportunity to see Zemo now. He nods. “Yes. It’s urgent, actually, so…”

She looks back down at her computer. “Okay, sir. Give me five minutes to arrange the visit.”  


There are not many people in the courtyard. One of the guards explain to Bucky that it’s because the people who are out now are the ones who are classified as the prison’s highest threats.

In a dark, twisted, and unexplainable way, Bucky is amused by that. He feels a bit proud, even.

Through the mesh barrier, Bucky can see Zemo lying down on one of the benches, engrossed in the book in his hands. He does not talk to anyone, nor does anyone seem to be interested in talking to him.

Bucky smiles at the sight of him. The tension washes off his body and he feels much lighter now. Two more months and he can hold Zemo again. Two more months.

He remembers once calling Zemo beautiful.

It’s an understatement, he thinks. Bucky lifts a hand and rests his palm flat against the barrier. This Zemo does not know him yet. Not in the way Bucky wants to be known. No good will come of talking to him, Bucky realizes. He doesn’t think he will be able to stand Zemo looking him like a stranger. Like a weapon. Like a simple means to an end.

Seeing him is enough for now. Bucky is comforted by that, even if it is only for a while.

“We’ll call him over,” the guard next to Bucky says.

“Actually,” Bucky says, “don’t.”

The guard turns to him and frowns. “Sir?”

Bucky puts his hand down and looks at the guard. “I think I’ve just figured out what I needed for the mission,” he says smoothly. “It’s okay now.”

He leaves the prison yard with a small smile on his face and an excited thrum in his heart.

Two more months.

It’s going to be a long wait, but it will be worth it.