cover art by akamine_chan
When Bucky went back to sleep in the lab in Wakanda, it was with the expectation that when he woke there'd be a cure, a way to undo all the brainwashing he'd endured. Some sort of treatment, maybe a run of pills, something that targeted the bad parts of his brain.
What he got was therapy, and it sucked.
Zemo had unearthed a treasure trove of Hydra documents from General Karpov, including the experimental protocols that had been used to implant the Winter Soldier personality into Bucky's brain. Once the Wakandan scientists had decrypted the documents, they had no problems reverse engineering a treatment plan.
Hence the therapy.
"желание," Dr. Onome said. "ржaвый, Семнадцать, Рассвет."
Her accent wasn't great, but the words were perfectly intelligible. Bucky's shoulder twitched, but that was his only reaction.
"What are you feeling?" she asked.
If he never, ever heard that question again, it would still be too soon. "Well, I don't feel like killing anyone." Bucky couldn't help himself. He knew that Dr. Onome was only trying to help, that a large part of her job was to monitor his mental state, but still.
She smiled. "That's definitely an improvement."
"No, think about it, Bucky. When we first started these sessions, those words would send you into a raging fugue state. Now, you can shrug off the compulsion that Hydra implanted into your mind, and the words have lost their power over you. You can make jokes about it." Impossibly, her smile grew wider. "You're free."
Dr. Onome was, like most Wakandans, terrifyingly competent. The first time she'd spoken his triggers, he'd fought against the words and the person saying them. She was a small, dark woman, no match for Bucky in sheer strength, but she was fast. She'd had no problems staying out of range of Bucky's fists, and in a move she still refused to show him, quickly had him flat on the ground, stunned and docile.
Steve would have laughed until he pissed himself.
Bucky frowned at his boots, the big beat-up ones that the Wakandan techs had tried to replace. He didn't feel like he was free, and he wasn't entirely convinced he wasn't a danger to people. "I could still hurt people."
"Yes." There was a lot of sympathy in her brown eyes. "You could. But I'm very confident you won't."
He didn't know what to do with that level of trust. "Thank you."
"You are most welcome," she replied, gently.
Part of the painful process of reclaiming his mind—his soul, had involved digging through years of suppressed memories, memories that were supposed to have been erased during the 'reset' process. At first, he hadn't been willing to do that, worried about other projects, other experiments that were better left hidden away in the recesses of his mind.
Bucky hadn't trusted anyone, not even Dr. Onome, until she'd shown where her loyalties were, standing up to King T'Challa when he'd asked about the intelligence that Bucky could provide. She'd refused to discuss it with the king, and then— "I'm his doctor first," she'd snapped, "and a Wakandan second."
Until that moment, no one but Steve had supported him unconditionally.
Dr. Onome made it safe for Bucky to remember everything, no matter how much it hurt.
And he did.
There was a small secret lab under a lake in what would eventually become known as Czechoslovakia. He'd spent time there; his sense of when was hazy, but what happened there was burned indelibly into his memory.
Bucky had the code to the lock on the steel-plated door but the lake water had rusted the door shut. He jimmied it with a crowbar and brute strength, and it gave with a shriek of bent metal. There was a quick inward rush of air that ruffled Bucky's hair, like playful fingers, when he yanked it open.
It was dim in the lab and there was an unpleasant mustiness that made Bucky sneeze several times. Toward the back, partly hidden behind a wall of mainframe computers, was a more primitive cryostasis chamber than the one he'd left back in Wakanda.
Inside the upright chamber, still and silent behind thick glass, was James Buchanan Barnes.
"Hello, James," Bucky said, the words echoing in the cool air.
Hydra hadn't had a dearth of mad scientists and Dr. Zola had been one of the best and brightest. He'd discovered a way to transplant a person's mind into a clone body, or even a robotic one. When his own body failed him, he moved his brilliant mind into a powerful supercomputer.
He hadn't let his lack of a body slow him down, continuing to perfect his mind-transference process to the point where it extended to duplication. And years later, he'd devoted his energy to creating and refining the Project Insight algorithm.
Building on Dr. Erskine's work with the Super Soldier Serum, Zola had managed to clone the Winter Soldier and transfer a copy of Bucky's personality into the other Bucky. He'd hoped to create an army of Winter Soldiers, much like General Karpov had tried to do.
It had worked, sort of.
Attempting to create a clone of a clone had resulted in a non-viable, undifferentiated mass of biologic matter. Clones could only be created from the original; anything else created too many replication errors. Much to Zola's disappointment, cloning on a larger scale hadn't been feasible.
Zola had given up after a while, his attention diverted by other projects, and in the end, there'd only been Bucky and the original clone left, an anomaly in an otherwise failed project.
Bucky fiddled with the buttons and dials on the control panel and, with a loud hum, the power flipped from the emergency backup system to auxiliary power. The relevant indicators were in the green, so Bucky tripped the switch to initiate the waking protocol. It would take a while, and he settled onto the floor, legs crossed, to wait.
Dr. Onome was a big proponent of biofeedback, and as part of his therapy, Bucky had learned to meditate. Sometimes it came in handy. He focused on his breathing, a five-count in, a five-count out, until nothing else existed in the world.
He swam back to consciousness when there was a loud clang, and a persistent beeping that spoke of attention and not danger. He stood fluidly, stretching up on his toes, and moved to the console.
"I'm James," the clone insisted during a training exercise. "You're Bucky, but I'm James."
Bucky just shrugged. It was an irrelevant detail, not important in the grand scheme of things right now. He went back to analyzing the security measures Dr. Zola had installed in the lab and the best ways to counter them. At some point Zola would make a mistake, and Bucky needed to be ready for that.
"I get it," he said. He understood the need to differentiate between them, since the techs couldn't—wouldn't. Their bodies were identical, except James was a clean slate, grown anew from genetic material. Sometimes Bucky found him tracing scars that weren't there. James remembered the injuries but his body didn't.
Their minds, too, were different. From the moment of transference, James grew, evolved, changed. He had all of Bucky's knowledge but none of his experience, his mind sharp as a knife and dangerously curious. The techs struggled to keep him under control, and Bucky just watched, and waited.
In the end, for all of Bucky's planning, he still failed James.
"Process complete. Stand by." The voice was tinny and scratchy, and there was a loud, metallic screech and a hiss of escaping air. The door stuttered open and Bucky watched as James' forehead developed a wrinkle, and his eyelids fluttered. His skin was ghostly pale and his hair was buzzed short, but in spite of that, it was still the same face that Bucky saw every time he looked in the mirror.
He waited as memory returned to James in a rush, eyes flying open as his body stumbled out of the cryochamber. Bucky caught him as he fell, and was startled when James wrapped his arms around Bucky and squeezed hard, a desperate hug.
"You came back for me," James whispered. "You came back."
The disbelief in James' voice made Bucky hold tight, eyes closed against everything he was feeling. "Yeah. Yeah, I did."