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A Warmer Frozen Life

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The first time Bucky Barnes woke up after his fall, everything was pure white. Cold, and white as snow.

The second time, everything was dark, except for the artificial light on the ceiling. People were gathered around him, talking a language he didn't understand, several surgeons working on his left arm and pieces of his memory were already missing.

 The eighth time was quieter, peaceful almost, just as the five previous ones. A man was reciting words: желание - ржaвый - Семнадцать - Рассвет - Печь - Девять - добросердечный - возвращение на родину - Один - грузовой вагон

 Bucky Barnes understood them all. Off he went.

 _________________

 

James Buchanan Barnes, feared by many under the name Winter Soldier, set to work again three weeks ago, and this week sounded the end of the mission. Somehow, it felt different from the other times.

Nothing had changed for him, his metallic arm still sat heavily on the left side of his upper body, his hair still reached past his shoulders and the gun by his bedside table was loaded as usual. The flat he's been living in for the past weeks was bare, in the exception of the weapons he got from Karpov, the pieces of technology he used to keep track on the target and his dark uniform waiting for him in an empty closet.

Maybe it was just the mission in itself. Three weeks have been needed to outline a strategy, the surveillance was unavoidable and Bucky was solo. No backup meant no screw up. Three weeks was a long time to stay in the same place, and a routine Bucky kept every single day has been set. The thought was frightening. Bucky Barnes never stayed long enough to develop habits. However, the mission was important, if not the most important of all. The preparation has been thorough but twenty-one days of close observation was surely insurance of a well-done murder.

  

 

Each day began the same way for the target and Bucky was never late, hidden but close behind. Keeping track on his every move, knowing where to find him and when, focusing on the people he talked to on a daily basis; Bucky could gather intel like no one else and Vassily Karpov had an unshakeable faith in him. Being an assassin was second nature, pulling a trigger or lunging at an enemy even easier than riding a bike.

For the past weeks, each Thursday has been the same. It started off by a run around Central Park; followed by a stop at the Birch Coffee to order a hot beverage, three sugars, no milk, on the go; back on the Upper East Side, Bucky would find his spot on the fire escape from the building across the street and listen carefully to each phone communications and interactions with the blonde neighbor. She was an infiltrated agent but the target had no clue, much to Bucky's boss own pleasure. The target would always conclude each workout by a hot shower, seven minutes top, starting by his short bright hair and going down.

After lunch, the ride to work was always the same. Turning left on Broadway, straight to 8th Ave, before turning right on West 52nd Street. On the 225, hidden away in a tall building, was standing the headquarters of a secret organization, called CKY. Specialized in international fugitives, their goal was to make this world a better place by arresting the bad guys, barely never killing any of them.

Funnily enough, the target had no idea who is was working for. CKY claimed to protect the world but they were mostly serving their best interest and protecting themselves. A few years back they made a mistake, and keeping the target under their radar was the best thing to do to avoid any leak. 

Unfortunately for them, Bucky Barnes' work was to kill the bad guys, and make CKY surrender. That, and kill one of their employee.

The target was single, born twenty-seven years ago and retired after a traumatic experience in Afghanistan, just as he was serving his country.

Reality was stating something different: Steve Rogers, born in 1974, deceased parents, no relatives, survived different attacks after being held captured by the Syrians who injected him with a serum. Steve didn't age, neither did he die under the weight of a burning tower that got hit by terrorists in 2001.

His super-solider condition could be similar to Bucky's in many ways, except for the fact that Rogers was manipulated by the United States of America in order to hide the truth about children and body organ traffickers, hostage holders and corrupted politics. 

Opposed to him was Bucky Barnes, an assassin working for a Russian 'entrepreneur' who didn't appreciated from a former ally to steal his concoction. American politics were set on using it to defend the country whereas Karpov was trying to destroy said country from the inside. If Bucky had learned anything from his time working with him, it was that revenge made you do nasty things. Revenge and conflicts of interest.

  

 

Two days later

 

Putting on his leather jacket, fitted black pants and tight boots, Bucky was getting himself ready before striking. A leather glove was covering the tip of his cybernetic arm and a dark mask hid away the lower part of his face. Anonymity was the key.

He then grabbed a knife, sliding it at his belt; a SIG-Sauer P226R to rest on his thigh, and hid away two more pocket knives, a grenade and munitions. His M4A1 carbine was still on the bed but would soon be on his back. The order was clear "target number 4A26 is expected to attend the CKY annual charity gala - position to be taken on the roof - on the first opportunity of a clear shot the target must be slaughtered". 

Finally pocketing his last gadgets, Bucky took care of the remnant of his stuff and put them into a trash bag to burn later on. The flat needed to be left bare, he was leaving for the base right after the success of the mission. He was expected for a report, he needed to be checked out and reboot. No hours, even minutes, could be wasted.

Going into the garage of the housing complex, Bucky approached his motorcycle and turned the key in the ignition while getting on it. He had the location of the CKY gala perfectly memorized and would arrive there in exactly twelve minutes. 

Let the night begin.

 

Bucky's eyes were sharp, following the target's moves from the rooftop facing the high windows of the venue. The target's right hand twitched whenever he was introduced to a new name of the company. No matter his position in the room, he was making sure to always face the crowd, orienting himself closer to the windows, doors or stairs. He was cautious, in an almost paranoid way. Bucky acted just the same whenever he had to go outside of his safe house and to witness someone having the same habits as him was disconcerting, to say the least. 

So far, Steve Rogers has been careful, but never in an exaggerated way. He was strong, fast, skilled, Bucky had followed him enough times to the gym to notice as much. If the target was ever to be attacked, it was obvious he would win the fight. In this environment however, it appeared to be different. The target was stiffer in his actions, his head held upright, as if he wanted to make himself even taller, in an intimating manner. He was cautious, on his guard, and Bucky couldn't help but wonder why.

Did he have other enemies Stanov didn't care to mention or was it just a behavior he couldn't get rid of after being taken hostage? The thought only lasted a second, the Winter Soldier was programmed to never dawdle.

He breathed slowly, deeply and waited. Bucky was a valuable asset to the company, he was effective and bodies fell easily when he was in charge. He was never in a rush on the field, always waiting for the perfect moment to aim a shot and fire. The target was in his line of sight but another guest could walk past him at any given time and the instructions were clear. A clean shot, no other victim.

 

 

Two hours later, the gala was coming to an end and the target was still breathing. Bucky Barnes had failed. 

The opportunity of a perfect shot came: the target had left the other guests to take a breather on the balcony. He was staring straight ahead into the night, as if he knew someone was watching him right opposite. He didn't stay more than a few minutes, just breathing in the chill air, never once looking at his phone or even pulling out a cigarette. He stood outside as if he was waiting for something to happen, for someone to show up. Bucky would have had the time to aim, take his shot, collect the cartridge case and leave. He did neither. The target got back inside.

Out of all the tasks the Winter Soldier ever got assigned to, people were objectives, targets. Sometimes, missions were places to destroy, data to focus on and retrieve. His mind was set on specific details, recollections of names, conversations, scents. Looking at the target in front of him, there was something off, an odd feeling that made Bucky's spine shiver.

In the three weeks he got to gather intel, he had noticed weird patterns and behaviors that seemed off. A way of talking sometimes similar to his, a way of looking for every single exit. The target looked trapped sometimes, as if he wasn't supposed to be here, as if he was belonging to somewhere else. Rogers barely went out, his friends often work related and without any family left, his holiday were apparently spent in New York. 

Bucky didn't find any information that could relate to his conduct, however. According to Karpov, the Syrians held him hostage, injected him with a serum and released him. No other details were given but to Bucky Barnes it didn't matter, his top priority was to kill people, not to question his superior. Afterward, Rogers has been the face of many magazines covers when he came back on American soil. To the population, he was attacked in Afghanistan, and became a national hero saved by the amazingly trained soldiers of the US Army. To someone with common sense the whole story appeared inaccurate but if some people ever got doubt it was perfectly covered up.

American politics kept criticizing Russians but clearly they were no better. Bucky Barnes' job was to kill corrupted people. He would never admit that, but the population should be grateful for his actions, he was actually cleaning up the mess.

Back on his mission, he knew he had no other choice but to break into Steve Rogers' flat and kill him there. No matter what took over him tonight, he had to finish this mission and go back to the base. He had to, even if most of the time the reason why seemed unclear to him.

It would be messier to kill the target back at his place but the infiltrated agent next door added some excitement to the task. Bucky Barnes was a thrill-seeker. He got on the street, and took off into the night on his motorcycle. It was fully dark but high street lamps lighted the main avenues. Drug dealers, sex workers and street fighters were sharing the narrow alleys while some of the popular roads were still filled with drunk people.

Once on Broadway, Bucky turned off the ignition and walked around the block for a few minutes before breaking into Steve's flat through the front door, by picking the lock. From outside, the lights on this floor were still off which meant the target and the agent were still on their way back from the gala. Bucky did a quick spotting, looking for accessible exits and sharp objects if he needed to fight back against the target. He would most certainly take his shot as soon as possible but the Winter Soldier liked to be prepared. Modern weapons usually did the job but hand-to-hand combats were always a possibility.

Eventually taking place in the target's kitchen, Bucky found a seat on a high chair and waited in the dark, his eyes sharp for any sudden and unusual moves on the street below. 

 

 

The target arrived at the building at 00:39, after having parked his own motorcycle farther than usual. The difficulty to find a parking spot at the weekend in New York, even greater than any other day. He wasn't alone, the infiltrated agent was waiting for him by the door of the block of flats, after getting out of a yellow cab. She was wearing a purple dress with a slit up the front, showing off her long legs. Bucky had surveilled her enough to know most of her wardrobe, and the way she picked her clothes more carefully every time she would meet up with her neighbor. She clearly took her mission a bit too far when it came to keep an eye on Steve Rogers but neither of her charming smiles or low-cute necklines seemed to impress him. 

Not much seemed to impress Steve Rogers, when Bucky thought about it. 

By 00:43, both were soon climbing up the stairs. They talked for a bit in the corridor, reliving the night and exchanging pleasantries before parting ways. Bucky heard the agent's door open and close, and Rogers' keys turning in the lock until the noise stopped abruptly. For two long minutes Bucky stayed put and waited for any movements.  

At 00:51, Bucky heard a soft click behind him but his reflexes were too long to kick in. Something sharp hit his head.

 

The last color Bucky Barnes saw before blacking out was blue. To be continued…