A/N: This follows the events of the previous chapter, "Welcome Anticlimax"
Steve and Sam didn't know what to expect when they brought Bucky home. He seemed so passive, they wondered if he could function at all.
To help Bucky reclaim his humanity, they started introducing him to the basics — food, clothing, bathing.
Fortunately, Hydra hadn't destroyed Bucky's humanity so much as repressed it. When he was unfrozen, he ate what the troops ate, mainly military rations and whatever the men made for themselves. The Hydra troops didn't want to care for the Winter Soldier like a baby. They made sure he would use the toilet on a regular schedule and would shower when ordered.
And that was the problem. Bucky only showered when Steve or Sam instructed him to. He wore the same clothes every day, unless they gave him something different; then he wore that every day.
If they asked him about his preference — clothes, food, shampoo — Bucky looked at them blankly. He wouldn't, couldn't, choose.
Steve and Sam decided to simplify Bucky's choices, beginning with food. Wary of upsetting his digestion, they started with soft, simple foods. For breakfast, Steve offered a plate of scrambled eggs and a bowl of oatmeal.
When the only order was, "take what you like," Bucky studied the two dishes, tilting his head from side to side like a bird, using his sniper's skills to determine which dish was closest. He'd been trained to eat what he was given. That was how he determined which plate was meant for him. Satisfied he'd taken the one Steve had meant to give him, Bucky devoured the eggs and then, when the oatmeal wasn't taken away, he ate that, too.
And then he was sick, because it was too much food for his inexperienced stomach.
After that, Steve offered smaller portions of the two choices and Bucky always took the plate that was closest. Then, if the rest of the food wasn't removed, he'd work his way through everything on the table.
As the Winter Soldier, he'd never had enough to feel full, so he'd always scavenged any leftovers.
Though Steve and Sam quickly discovered Bucky could eat solid food just fine — just not a lot at any one time — they'd stuck with soft foods that didn't require cutting. It was unnerving to see the silent figure absentmindedly twirling a dull table knife with his metal fingers while he spooned up stew with the other hand. They hesitated to trust him with a sharp knife until they were sure he was more Bucky Barnes than Winter Soldier.
So they ate stew and spaghetti, sandwiches and hamburgers and hot dogs that brought back a nice memory of going to a Dodgers game with Steve.
After several days, Steve carefully placed the breakfast plates so they were equidistant from Bucky's seat, trying to persuade him to make a choice based on his own desires. It just made Bucky anxious, he studied and studied and finally sat back, blank-faced. Sam couldn't stand it. He shoved the scrambled eggs closer to Bucky, who fell on the food like a starving wolf, before his handlers could take it away again.
Sam tucked his hands under his armpits and avoided Steve's accusatory gaze. The test had been Sam's idea!
Bucky's eating slowed. He warily watched the disagreement between his two handlers, wondering if he was in trouble. Maybe he'd taken food that Commander Steve wanted. He meekly offered the mostly empty bowl.
Steve thanked him politely, ate a spoonful and handed the rest back for Bucky to finish. Instead, Bucky offered it to Sam, who repeated Steve's actions.
"It's all right, Buck. No one's mad," Steve assured his fragile friend. "You finish that."
While they were trying, and failing, to get Bucky to act without orders, they questioned him about his and Hydra's actions in Washington D.C. He seemed relieved to make reports to his new handlers. He wanted to please them. He just didn't understand what they wanted most of the time. It was much easier when they finally had to resort to giving him orders.
Bucky told them about the abandoned bank building that had been his rendezvous point. Steve wanted to check it out, but waited until Bucky had eaten a few good meals and looked stronger and healthier. Then the trio took a road trip to D.C.
Bucky led them to the safe house. Steve and Sam poked around the empty vault. Discarded equipment littered the floor and dangled from the protruding safe deposit boxes that had been used as shelves.
Sam picked up a muzzle/mask like the one he remembered the Winter Soldier wearing. When Bucky shrank away, Sam set it down quickly, hands spread out as if he was showing he was unarmed.
"Easy, friend. You don't ever have to wear it again," he soothed.
He and Steve recognized that the muzzle was more than a disguise to Bucky.
"What does it mean, Buck?" Steve asked gently.
"Obedience," Bucky answered. "Missions. No talking except for orders."
"Sam's right. You don't need to wear it any more," Steve said with certainty.
Bucky relaxed somewhat, then Steve picked up a mouthpiece with teeth marks deeply embedded in it.
Bucky instantly, obediently, went to the chair that was the centerpiece of the layout. He sat back and opened his mouth like a baby bird.
Steve was wary. "What does the chair mean, Buck?" he asked, more sharply than he meant to.
"Punishment," Bucky said quietly. "Forgetting. Wipe him. Wipe him!"
Steve threw the mouthpiece across the room so hard it flattened against the far wall and stuck there.
"Never again!" Steve swore. "You will never have to go through that again." He offered Bucky his hand and pulled his friend into a hug, away from the evil chair.
Sam picked up a wrench out of a toolbox. He tapped the equipment above the chair suggestively. "Want to destroy the chair?" he asked, handing the wrench to Bucky.
Bucky regarded the wrench in his hand for a long moment, then dropped it with a clang. He went to an ammunition box the others hadn't investigated yet, fiddled for a moment, then came back with a brick of C4, which he hopefully offered to Steve.
Steve smiled. It was the first choice Bucky had made.
"Good idea, pal. You can blow it up. Get the charge ready while Sam and I finish searching the place."
"But don't blow up the whole building," Sam warned.
Bucky frowned for a moment, then nodded. "Collateral damage is unacceptable."
Sam smiled. It was another breakthrough. Bucky had understood what Sam wanted without an explanation.
"Correct. Good job, Bucky."
Bucky happily worked on setting up the explosives while the others collected papers, weapons, a forgotten tablet and anything else that looked useful. They packed everything in a couple of duffel bags and a paper grocery sack.
"All right," Sam decided. "Let's blow this place and then we can stop on the way home and get some dinner. I'm starving."
"B … Buh," Bucky stuttered.
The other men waited patiently for Bucky to gather himself and hesitantly ask, "B … Burgers?"
Steve's smile was as blinding as looking directly into the sun. "Whatever you want, Buck. It's your choice."