Fandom: Captain America - TWS (MCU)
Pairing: Bucky Barnes/Steve Rogers
Disclaimer: I do not own them, they own me. No money made, no harm intended.
Summary: The Captain is looking for him. The Winter Soldier knows that because he is there when a yellowed old folder with cyrillic on the cover trades hands in a well-groomed cemetery. The Captain is not looking for him. He is chasing an old ghost behind a young face, the fresh regret from an old scar. The Winter Soldier knows that because the Captain continues looking even after going through the contents of that folder.
Warning: some violance, copious amounts of mental issues, Bucky feels abound
Word count: 3704
A/N: This fic is my birthday present to my beloved amcw177. And because I'm a sucker for research, in this story I have included three events that made international news.
It's like an itch beneath his skin, a nightmare behind his eyelids when he is awake. He looks at the skyline with water dripping from his hair, and his fingers involuntarily curl as though dragging a body out of water. A frown rips through his features, the shadow of a snarl on his lips.
He is a weapon, and a good weapon doesn't miss.
"Your name is James Buchanan Barnes."
Everything is disconnected, like looking into a smashed mirror where all the shards reflect a different face. He doesn't know which ones are real. Some seem familiar, as if from a dream that lingers in the minutes before waking, except he knows he is not sleeping now.
Sleeping is cold, freezing, panic, ice.
Being wiped is pain and heat and screaming through his teeth.
At the end of the day it's all the same. Unthinking, unfeeling silence.
"But I knew him."
He knows where he is - behind enemy lines, always there - but his grasp is loose on when. It never really mattered. Before a man made him want to remember.
He looks at the skyline and then--
"Who the hell is Bucky?"
-- he raises his hands before his eyes. Both are covered in grime, grit, the blood of others.
The metal one doesn't tremble.
He dreams, and he is riding an elevator with a woman who has long gray hair, a kind smile, and a contract on her head. She stirs something in him, a shade of a woman--
"Let me help with that, Mrs. Rogers."
--flitting into his consciousness like a wraith of memory, and he uses four bullets instead of two.
Her blood is very red pooling at his feet and her bloodied mouth will speak no more of human right's violations, of war crimes, of political responsibility. Being a journalist in Moscow has never been a life insurance, and now she will publish no more books defiling her leaders.
The Kreml is pleased. Or so they tell him.
"Your work has been a gift to mankind."
When he wakes there is 4am rain beating down on New York--
wrong, all wrong, remembered but not recognised
--and he sucks in a sharp breath as the pain of his wounds hits, remembers the fight, the fall into the river, the weight of dragging a body along. He checks the safe house for any sign of trouble, and finds none.
Ten minutes later a S.H.I.E.L.D. strike team breaks down the door, tac lights flashing.
He watches them leave from the 24/7 diner across the street, adrenaline rush slowly wearing off and crappy coffee cooling before him. It smells bitter and watery, and he remembers the taste of coffee from a weathered military tin cup being passed around the fire.
A hand, making tiny sketches in a worn notebook.
He thinks there should be faces--
--but inside the well of his mind there echoes only the smell of coffee and the sound of rain.
He slips past the confusion and chaos that surrounds the Triskelion easily. Nobody is looking for him here of all places, a dirty coverall and a hard hat is all he needs to blend into the groups of nameless people working on rescue and salvage.
He hasn't had a sneak job like that in a while, he thinks, but the thought has no real substance, as he has no concept how long that might actually entail. Maybe it's for the best.
Maybe he doesn't want to know.
"You know me. You have known me your whole life."
He listens to their facts and their gossip, and it's more than enough to get him what he needs.
The Captain lives. The Widow lives. They also know he lives.
But what does he live for, now?
Pierce is dead, and with him the success of his operation. Just another castle of sand washed away by the waves of time, joining Red Rooms and HYDRAs of many names, many leaders, many causes. There will be others. The Winter Soldier knows that because he wouldn't be here otherwise.
He could have told Pierce how dangerous it is to play God, to show one's hand too soon and with arrogance--
bone and soft tissue ripped apart in a shower of red on a quiet Stockholm street, and it's just another man down, just another death added to the legend of the Winter Soldier. Something that is supposed to restore favor to HYDRA, but instead brings down on them the wrath of the upper echelons, for it might be easy to bring down a Swedish Prime Minister, but dealing with the international fallout is everything but
--but he is just a weapon, and weapons don't tell stories. They are there to end them though.
He spends the night in a cheap motel where the tap drips slowly, steadily, and paint peels from the walls. He is Ralph Donovan from Michigan. His driver's licence says so.
He has three more, all different names.
"It's like I'm invisible. I'm turning into you."
Disappear. Dissolve. Become.
He is used to this, to being molded, being unmade. In a suspended moment of existence with no past being woken up is being born to a purpose. The Winter Soldier knows this because he has no purpose of his own.
"I'm with you until the end of the line."
Emergency protocol dictates he should lay low until they make contact and call him in. He has backup resources, but this time he doubts things will be that easy. If the task force from the other day is any indication, HYDRA's exposure is vast and S.H.I.E.L.D.'s retaliation is swift.
Not that it matters.
He is a weapon, and so far he's been far too easily concealed.
He sleeps four hours before he slips out, and he dreams of ice, of falling, of being strapped down on a table and screaming, screaming, screaming--
When he shudders awake, he doesn't remember any of it.
He waits at a little breakfast place in the mornings and an old orthodox church in the evenings for his connections to show up as established long before all went south. As is protocol.
Days pass like that.
He is starting to think they are not coming, and he wonders if he should go to Moscow, or Krasnoyarsk, and it briefly hits him that he cannot tell if his contacts are still there. If the cities he knows still exist.
He wonders how he feels about being on the loose, adrift.
He is standing on a narrow metal walkway and the whole world is ablaze.
It takes him perhaps twenty minutes to find a library. A little longer to encode his message and send it off. A young woman with bright eyes smiles at him over the edge of her book.
He doesn't smile back.
On the counter before her there are brochures of the Smithsonian.
He stares into the dirty mirror hung over the counter of a cheap little bar, and doesn't recognise the face as his own. The man on the other side looks a lot like James Buchanan Barnes, might have been him once. It's a little hard to tell from all those grainy old pictures, the scratchy footage blown out of proportion on oversized screens. An easy mistake to make.
The exhibition is just so American; larger than life, bright, make-believe.
Just like Bucky Barnes' black and white smiles. The eyes tell a different story.
"Where are we going, Buck?"
The eyes that are not his linger on a blond man in red, white and blue, and he thinks he knows that look, because through the mirror his eyes linger on a blond man in a leather jacket stepping out of Sam Wilson's apartment across the street.
A man stands above the fire and his face is red, red, red.
The Captain is looking for him. The Winter Soldier knows that because he is there when a yellowed old folder with cyrillic on the cover trades hands in a well-groomed cemetery.
The Captain is not looking for him. He is chasing an old ghost behind a young face, the fresh regret from an old scar. The Winter Soldier knows that because the Captain continues looking even after going through the contents of that folder.
He knows he is not James Barnes, because the man on the other side of the mirror is a hero and an idol, a friend and a comrade.
The man on this side is none of those things, so he knocks his vodka back and when the Captain is out of sight, he heads in the other direction.
He walks down the street like he knows exactly where he is going--
like he belongs here, New York city boy
--when there is a loud bang followed by a cacophony of cursing and honking and the wailing of sirens. It's but a minor crash in the rush hour traffic, nothing noteworthy in a bustling city if no one is dead and nothing is exploding.
Nobody seems to notice as he stumbles into a back alley with wide eyes and quick gasps, back to the dirty brick wall as his body slips from his control, trembling, sweating, reeling.
The sound is that of a door being shut down the corridor, his ears pick up the faint voices and the Chechen words about a small village down south and a mother who is dead, another innocent whose blood is on Russia - it is Russia now -, of a missing uncle and a brother who survived a grenade but lost his eyes and his sanity.
The voices come closer and he leaves his work with the wires, body pressed against the wall, knife in hand, should they decide to check on their explosives. He has slit countless throats, the motion is in his blood, his bone marrow, but the voices drift past and then there is silence again.
He could take them out, but dead Chechen terrorists are a success to Russian task forces. The same terrorists blowing up an elementary school full of children is a success for the Russian cause. For all the innocents they didn't kill there will be ten times as many dead mothers, missing uncles, wrecked brothers when Russia is through with them.
He goes back to handling the wires and his hand never shakes.
'It must be cruel for you, not be able to remember your victories', he hears Pierce's voice in his head, a piece of a conversation playing from the fragments of his mind like an old tune he can sing along to without knowing what the song is.
He dimly thinks this time he would be glad to shoot the man in the face himself.
But he is a weapon, and weapons are not asked, only used.
He sleeps, and he dreams of ice, of falling, of being strapped down on a table and screaming, screaming, screaming--
He sits in his bed with beads of sweat forming at his temples, slowly flexes his metal hand and stares at it like he sees it for the first time. There is the taste of bile in the back of his throat, a burn in his eyes, a cold sweat over his skin.
"I have very high hopes for this one. We are so close, Herr Schmidt."
Too many days without contact. Too much time since his last wiping, his last moment of serenity.
Sleep eludes him, and when it doesn't, it brings only dreams that plague his mind like a disease long after he is awake. Sometimes the flashes inside his head are clear and sometimes they are not more than smoke over water.
Either way, if he tries to grab for them, he finds nothing but emptiness.
The place has a medical container with a bottle of pure alcohol for sterilization. He looks at it a long moment before he takes a long pull. Then another.
It helps him not, and the glass shatters against the far wall, littering the ground with shards as he falls down amid them. The agony of his own mind is crippling, cutting, making him slip. And slip and slip and slip until he just can't.
He stares at the broken pieces of glass, a sound breaking past his lips, tortured and enraged, an inarticulate howl known only to the caged.
He is a weapon, and no one is with him until the end of the line.
He finally decides that protocol be screwed, but behind the vault doors there is no one left who could help him. All equipment is gone, just as personnel and paperwork.
He bites the inside of his mouth and kicks a chair across the room.
The weather is hot even for the season and the air twists and ripples in the distance with it. Sweat trickles down his nose, but he keeps lying motionless in the sun, eyes trained on his target through the scope--
"You are my friend."
There is a table, there is a glint of glasses mirroring cold white light and a syringe--
"A very promising subject, indeed."
--the ground is mud from the melting snow and he is bleeding out in it and evac is leaving without him, and it's too late, too late--
"You shaped the century, and I need you to--"
--there is a war, there is a woman in a red dress, there is a tune of red-white-and-blue, there is the angry red stump of his missing arm--
"Did it hurt, Steve?"
--there is a camp, there is a room, there is a little girl with red, red hair--
"Take the shot, soldier."
Cold War, they call it, but nothing ever feels colder than his own bones--
"I thought you were smaller."
--there is pain and there is… there is...
"Where are we going, Buck?"
They are not making contact, and he needs it, needs them to shut down his mind because it's breaking, breaking, breaking. Focus, he needs to focus, needs to plan, needs to execute.
He needs a mission, and he knows where to find it.
The Captain seems taken aback when he sees him. He should. They have rather upgraded the security of his apartment once he declared he won't be moving out, but still he got in undetected. The Winter Soldier knows that because he highly doubts they would have let him sit there and watch their Captain sleep for the better part of the past five minutes.
To his credit, the Captain does notice something is amiss and comes to with battle-ready alertness, already moving out of bed as his eyes open and sweep the room for the threat.
Then those open blue eyes come to rest on him, and everything seems to stand still.
"Bucky," the Captain breathes, and it is like a whiplash--
"Remember when I made you ride the Cyclone on Coney Island? This is payback, isn't it?"
--and he is on his feet in a second, steel flashing in the dark.
"I told you I'm not," he says, and it is a threat, but one the Captain doesn't seem to take seriously.
"I know you don't remember," he replies softly, cautiously, like he is talking to a frightened animal, and he holds his hands where the Winter Soldier can see them, palms open, placating. When he says nothing, the Captain swallows and goes on. "I have seen some of what they did to you."
"What is it you know," he snarls, moves faster than any man should be capable, but the Captain is there to meet him, because in this, they do have something in common.
He doesn't know if that makes it better or worse.
They tumble around the room trading blows, kicks, metal flashing and cutting cloth, coming away with red along the edge. The Captain is good, very good, but he is unarmed and tries not to harm, giving him the edge.
"You know nothing," he spits, trading hands on the knife, but the Captain knows this, spins away only to be caught by a kick in the knee and a malicious smile.
"Then tell me," the Captain asks him, ducking the metal fist that cracks the wall where his head used to be. "We don't have to do this."
"Maybe I want to."
Maybe he does. It doesn't seem to matter.
His blade catches on the sheet the Captain wraps around his forearm to shield him, and the punch to his stomach makes him grunt. But this, he knows. This, his body remembers.
On the next attack, he fists into the soft cotton material, throwing a diversionary right hook before he slams his head into the Captain's face, making him stagger. The rest is more instinct than thought, hooking their ankles and pinning their shining hero beneath him with the edge of the knife flat at his throat.
The Captain stares up at him and doesn't seem to be afraid.
"Come in with me," he offers. "S.H.I.E.L.D. can--"
“Do what?" The laugh that escapes him is bitter. "Lock me up? Or perhaps four walls are three too many for a prison?" he arches an eyebrow mockingly. "You only need one for an execution after all."
Or a floor and a knife, he thinks grimly, but doesn't say it.
"You pulled me from the river. Why?"
He turns the question in his mind, considers lying, but no answer he can think of sounds convincing. In the end, he settles for the truth. "I don't know."
"I think you do," the Captain says, hisses as the blade's edge nicks his neck.
"What I know is that my mind is like a bag full of broken glass, and no matter what I touch I cut myself on it," he pushes through his teeth, furious. He doesn't mean to be that honest, and he shakes his head in frustration at the slip that makes those blue eyes deepen with concern and sorrow. He has no need for such emotion. No regard.
“I'm so sorry, Buck, I should've saved you, I--”
He wants to squeeze his metal hand around that throat, show him how it tastes, to be in someone else's power so completely, he wants to, he wants-- The face is the same but the body is different, he thinks, and he cannot remember why.
He just knows they are close enough that he can feel the other's scent, and this he knows even though he has forgotten, and it hurts.
“You should have let me die. Why didn't you?” he rasps, and the look on the Captain's face is so open, so honest, even as his voice trembles a little too. And he answers like it is the most obvious thing, like it really is that simple.
“Because I've let you die once. Not again.” A small smile appears on his lips, and it looks pained, but it is a smile nonetheless. "Besides, I made a promise, you idiot."
"I'm with you until the end of the line."
The tears well up uninvited, and the next breath he draws is wet with them.
"Bucky," the Captain murmurs, and when there is no answer he moves to touch him slowly, mindful of the knife so close to his throat. When nothing happens, his fingers inch along his arm, curling around his wrist as those honest blue eyes seek his. "This one time… let me help you."
He wants to laugh, to lash out, but the sound slipping from his lips is more of a sob, and his body shakes like a leaf.
'You are a fool,' he wants to say, but in the end what surfaces is a broken "Please."
The cell is very white, but his eyes adjust soon enough. His first instinct is panic, but then training takes over, never to show emotion, never to let anything slip.
They promise to help him.
The Captain keeps calling him Bucky, keeps visiting with his pained, hopeful eyes. Soon enough other people start to call him James. He doesn't know if that makes a difference. If it should. If it can. If he even cares.
The face that looks at him from the mirror is still not his own.
He doesn't know what they are giving him, little pills, injections, but they numb the cuts from the shards of him, and so he lets them.
Disassemble the gun, oil the parts, care for it, make it sing deadly.
This, he knows. Welcomes.
He would prefer the wiping, the single moments of existence, the unthinking cold and the silence in between. Whatever drugs they are giving him, they don't make him forget. But they let him look on what little he remembers with a detachment that feels like death, like he is watching someone else even when he knows otherwise. Somewhere in there are the shattered remains of Bucky Barnes, his fractured memories, his pain, his devotion.
Nightmares from another mind.
The Captain - Steve - doesn't get it. The Winter Soldier knows that because the man keeps coming back, keeps smiling, keeps trying to fix something that isn't there anymore.
Sometimes, he remembers things only to forget them again, like his past is nothing but a fever dream to wake up from. Sometimes he recognizes faces only to have them swallowed back by the emptiness. A man with warm brown eyes tells him his memory might recover, in time.
The Captain's face, he remembers, always.
Sometimes, he wonders how it could've turned out. If he never fell. If he could've been saved.
The Captain believes he can be saved still. The Winter Soldier knows that because otherwise he wouldn't be here. He also knows the Captain is wrong. He can see it in the eyes of the others.
It's hard to track time, but he doesn't care for it. He can wait. Wait to be cleaned, reassembled, pointed at a target with a sure, loving touch. To fulfill his purpose once again.
He is a weapon, and when the time comes, he won't miss. This one use, he is granted still.