A/N: Spoiler alert for Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Captain America: Civil War.
As always, many thanks go out to CapriceAnn Hedican-Kocur for the Beta and Winter-Soldier-88 for the brainstorming.
Note 1: I know it's been a while since this story was updated, but it couldn't be helped. Not only is my muse a fickle little scamp, my family has been experiencing a great deal of emotional turmoil that may not get better any time soon. Such is RL.
Note 2: This story is being revamped. Some scenes will be removed completely. Others will be changed to better conform to the MCU movies. Also, parts 2 and 3 will be eliminated and the chapters posted all under one title.
"I will come back to you, I swear I will;
And you will know me still.
I shall be only a little taller
Than when I went."
― Edna St. Vincent Millay, The Harp-Weaver and Other Poems
And You Will Know Me Still
The Asset stopped in mid-swing. Deep inside, something dug at his brain, winding its way through his synapses, a voice barely heard, coming from so far away that it didn't even sound human. Briefly, a scene flashed behind his eyes of a scrawny, sickly young man looking up at him, the sadness of recent loss making his blue eyes seem dull and lifeless.
Thank you, Buck. But I can get by on my own.
He heard another voice that sounded like his own. Less harsh, warm, and filled with… affection?
The thing is you don't have to. I'm with you to the end of the line, pal.
He heard the same words inside his head, as if from a long ways away. The two visions overlapped, merged, and became one. His opponent had called him Bucky when they fought on the bridge and just now, he'd said, "Your name is James Buchanan Barnes. I'm not gonna fight you." He dropped the shield, the circle of metal spinning into the smoke coming from the helicarrier's destroyed engines. "You're my friend."
Why did he save me? He could've let me die, but he didn't. Why? "You're my mission. My mission!"
More and more questions filled his mind even as he pummeled the other man until his face was a bloody mess and he was barely conscious.
One eye was swollen shut, one cheekbone was broken and his lips were bloody, yet somehow, he managed to speak. Just a few words, but it was enough. "Then finish it, 'cause I'm with you to the end of the line."
The Asset panted hard, his metal arm raised to deliver yet another blow, his throat rasping with every breath. He'd never hesitated to complete a mission before. Why now?
The sound of the ship disintegrating reverberated around them. It changed to a loud groaning accompanied by the rending of metal, sounding the death knell of a gigantic beast. Before the Asset could do more than turn his head, one of the engines broke loose and smashed through the catwalk, knocking the other man out into space. The Asset managed to grab onto one of the cross struts with his metal arm, and there he dangled, watching as the other man fell into the river. And in that moment, he made a decision, the first for which he had no instructions from those who'd kept him enslaved.
Opening his fingers, the Asset allowed himself to fall. There was a moment of anticipation then he plunged into the cool water of the Potomac. While in the air, he'd altered his course so that he landed in the same area as the man who kept calling him Bucky. He took a deep breath just before he hit, and dived down until he located his opponent. A name teased at the periphery of his mind: Steve. And now that he had a name to go with the face, the combination seemed almost familiar.
The impact with the water reseated his dislocated shoulder, and though the pain was excruciating, the Asset used the arm to propel himself and his cargo to the shore, dropping the heavier man in the mud and standing over him until he was certain he was alive. Steve took a shuddering breath, and another, a thin trickle of water coming from the side of his mouth.
He wanted to stay, to make sure that Steve would be alright. However, his instinct for self-preservation took over. He turned away, trudging through the bushes and reeds growing along the shore, emerging onto an empty field. Glancing into the sky to get his bearings, he ignored the sounds of the first responders headed toward the massive destruction caused by the three enormous ships crashing into the river and onto land, no doubt destroying everything in their paths.
If he was found, they'd return him to the cold place. Every time they put him into the chamber, he wanted to fight. He wanted to be free to choose a life for himself, but the programming was so ingrained that he meekly followed orders, even when he knew that extreme pain would follow the words, "Wipe him, and start over."
Pain, blistering cold and killing were the only constants in his world for as long as he could remember. It had changed after the fight on the bridge when a stranger had stared at him slack-jawed and whispered a name. "Bucky?"
He reached the other side of the field, orange dust from the baseball diamond coating his boots up to the ankles. Ahead he could see an abandoned warehouse, the crumbling walls covered in surreal drawings and words that meant nothing.
Wiping away the dust and grime coating one of the windows, the Asset peered into the empty space. Determining that it would serve his purpose at least temporarily, he moved to a rusted metal door, shoved his metal fingers into the small space between the door and the jamb, and yanked it open.
He quietly closed the door, his eyes scanning the vast room, taking in his surroundings. The city noise was muted by distance and the thick concrete walls. The light filtering through the dirt covering the windows gave the area a murky quality. He rubbed his right shoulder, wincing at the twinge of pain. It was much less now than when it happened, tolerable.
The name Bucky didn't feel real to him. It was more like something he'd once heard long ago, and wasn't certain he remembered correctly. However, if he was going to be on his own, he had to have a name. James Barnes. Later, when his true self emerged-if it emerged-he might find it no longer fit, and he'd become Bucky again. But until then, it would have to do.
He located the bathroom, the door screeching on rusted hinges. Brown water flowed into the basin when he turned the knob, smelling of rust and sulfur. He let it flow until it ran clear. With his right hand, he splashed water over his face, rubbing away the soot and grime, the water sliding down to drip off his chin and the end of his nose. Droplets clung to his beard, eyebrows, lashes and the hairs at his crown and temples. Using the heel of his hand, he rubbed his eyes then wiped a drop of water from the end of his nose with the back of his hand.
Fatigue washed through the Asset as he stumbled out into the hallway again, opening doors until he found a room with a sagging, dust covered sofa against one wall. Rusted file cabinets, a desk and a chair with a rotten seat cushion faced the door. A silent watchdog in a place that hadn't seen human life in many years. Stumbling over to the sofa, he collapsed onto it and closed his eyes.
And the first true sleep the Asset had experienced since 1944 was blissfully dreamless.
Standing over the coffee maker, Sam Wilson waited for that last precious drip before pouring a travel mug to the brim. He carried it over to the table he used as a desk, took a sip and set it aside. Tapping the keys, he called up the news feeds regarding HYDRA and SHIELD. Aside from the occasional mention of the Kardashians and a few celebrities, the debacle in D.C. and its impact on the US's intelligence network, the economy and its relationships with the rest of the world was all anyone was talking about.
Countless highlighted articles identified Natasha, Steve and Nick Fury, reporting that the latter had died in a single car accident after a high-speed chase with the Metro PD, though details on why the cops were after the head of SHIELD were glossed over. From what Fury said, the assassin hadn't been hiding his purpose. With that metal arm, he would most certainly be noticed. Journalists from all over the world grabbed onto the images of the Winter Soldier, using him as stepping stones to bigger and better things.
Sam thought of offering his services during the clean-up efforts, but Natasha convinced him not to as that would leave him open to public scrutiny, if his connection to the events became known.
His phone beeped with an incoming text. Thumbing the screen, he noted that it had come from a blocked number. He was about to delete without reading then changed his mind when he saw that it contained a code phrase.
The message gave him time and place for a meet, and included the code phrase so he would know it wasn't a HYDRA ploy to draw him out. After his fight with Rumlow and rescue by helicopter, Sam was let out in a remote area so they wouldn't be seen together. He eventually made his way back home, and had been keeping a low profile, just in case.
He quickly shut down the computer, grabbed his phone, sunglasses, a hoodie and keys on the way out the door. Eschewing his car, he climbed aboard his bike, smiling as he remembered the day he and Steve met at the park. The second time he'd passed him, Sam had known who he was.
A few minutes later, he rolled up to the park, used his heel to lower the kickstand and shut down the engine. Putting the hood up, he zipped it halfway, and took off down the path that led to the Reflecting Pool.
As he got closer, Sam could see a woman sitting alone, chewing gum and blowing bubbles, fully engrossed in her smart phone. She too wore a hooded sweatshirt, and the upper half of her face was obscured by a huge pair of sunglasses. He came to a stop and nodded at the bench. "That seat taken?"
She scooted over to make room, giving him a small smile that he returned.
"Right on time." Natasha looked up at him, making him wonder how so many different women could be wrapped up inside such a petite package.
Dropping onto the bench next to her, Sam rested his elbows on his knees. "What's the news?"
"Steve's in surgery. He'll be released a few days."
He sighed with relief. "He can stay at my place while he's recouping. You can too, if you want."
Looking down at the ground, he was startled when Natasha took his hand and gave it a squeeze. "Thanks for the offer. We'll head to the cave. Wanna join us?"
"Just might. Lease is up soon." He looked around, giving the impression to anyone watching that he was thinking deep thoughts. "Think they'll let me in to see Steve?"
"He's a veteran and you're with the VA, so yes." Natasha's phone beeped. Her jaws worked the pink wad while she scanned email, her features tightening is a small show of irritation. Sam stood when she did. "My contact wants to meet."
Crossing his arms, Sam frowned. "About Steve's friend turned HYDRA assassin?"
Nodding, Natasha took a piece of paper from her pocket, spit her gum into it and wadded it into a ball. "Was hoping the KGB would come up empty."
Hands in his pockets, Sam watched Natasha walk away without looking back wishing he could turn his emotions on and off the way she did. After a while, Sam made his way back to the parking lot, fired up the bike and aimed for the hospital.
A few blocks from the hospital, Sam pulled over to let an ambulance pass then continued his ride. At the information desk, he was given Steve's room number, thanking God that his friend wasn't in the ICU. He presented his VA ID and was given access.
In short order, he'd set up the iPod speaker docking station, cued up the Trouble Man soundtrack and switched it on. Pulling a chair close to the bed, Sam flipped through a tattered Sports Illustrated while he waited.
Marvin Gaye had just told the world that there were only three things for sure: taxes, death, and trouble, when a raspy voice murmured, "On your left."
Sam smiled, knowing that Steve would be okay. A few minutes later, the nurse came in to check on her patient, but he'd already gone back to sleep.
It was full night before Steve awoke again, and by then Sam had left and come back with a paper bag. Sam knew that the super-soldier wouldn't want to hang around to be questioned incessantly by the powers that be, or at least those who were left once the known HYDRA agents had been imprisoned. Steve would want to touch base with Natasha and Fury.
Steve shifted in the bed and opened his eyes. "You still here?"
"Where else am I gonna go?" He reached down and dropped the bag on the bed. Flicking his eyes to the guards at the door then down to his lap, Sam laid the magazine in front of Steve. Stuck in the pages was a piece of paper with the number of guards, their locations, and with what they were armed. "Told 'em I was your counselor at the VA."
Crossing one leg over the other, Sam looked up at the ceiling to his right then to his left and back to Steve, telling him where the cameras were located.
Rubbing a finger on the paper, Steve gave him a time frame for getting out. That he'd leave was a given. The men just had to pick a time that would work in their favor. The time when the guards would likely be careless. From the looks of things, these men and women never got distracted or complacent. No matter the circumstances, they expected the worst and were prepared for it. Or so they thought.
Natasha had told Sam about Steve laying waste to an attack squad inside an elevator. Steve had also just survived the destruction of a helicarrier, near drowning and emergency surgery, yet he looked as though he'd only been in a traffic accident and was being kept overnight for observation.
The doctor came in to examine his patient and ordered a tray. The nurse came in, set the tray on the table over his bed and removed the cover. The meal consisted of tea, juice, gelatin, broth, crackers and applesauce. Just the thought turned Sam's stomach. Steve plowed through it like he hadn't eaten for a week, making a face at the taste of the applesauce. Sam guessed his enhanced metabolism required at least double the calories of the average adult male, and he'd eaten didn't even come close.
Chuckling, Sam shook his head. "Slow down, Steve. You just had surgery, remember?"
Setting the bowl aside, Steve wiped his mouth before speaking. "Why don't you go on home and get some rest? I should be up and around tomorrow."
Sam got to his feet, tapping the iPod and giving Steve a pointed stare. "I'm leavin' this with you. Just in case you get bored." It was the closest he could come to telling his friend that there was information on the device for him to listen to. "I'll be back tomorrow around noon. I'll bring you some contraband."
Steve's smile was answer enough.
As Sam walked back to the stairs, he could feel the eyes of the guards drilling holes in the back of his head, and it made him wonder who they were protecting, Steve, or the rest of the world from Steve.
While this was going on, the surgical staff were working hard to save the life of a man burned over ninety percent of his body. He also had numerous bruises, scrapes and cuts, rounded out with so many breaks that the surgeon stopped counting. His concussion was severe enough that amnesia was almost a certainty. They wouldn't know for sure until he woke up. If he woke up.
What they wouldn't know until much later, was that the man's name was Brock Rumlow, and that he'd been injured while taking part in the incident at SHIELD headquarters. It would take a lot longer for anyone to find out that he was also a high-level HYDRA agent, but by then, Rumlow would've succumbed to his injuries or be sent off to a rehab center that provided long-term care. Rumlow would more than likely escape and disappear into the dark underbelly of D.C., hiding until he decided on the best way to get revenge.
The hospital staff would most definitely care that they'd had a hand in saving the life of a man who was directly responsible for thousands of deaths, most of which had been the crew of the three helicarriers SHIELD had been forced to destroy, those who hadn't been able to escape the Triskelion, and the surrounding area.
And though the families of those who died wouldn't agree, the deaths of a few thousand was a small price to pay to save millions. The SHIELD agents would've preferred that no one die, but that hadn't been an option. HYDRA believed that the ends justified the means, and if that meant the deaths of innocent civilians, so be it.
SHIELD had been founded under one doctrine-protection-and it would do so again. Those that remained would be tasked with rebuilding. How that would come about, no one was completely certain.
Night had long ago draped itself over Washington D.C. when the man once known as the fist of HYDRA AKA the Winter Soldier AKA the Asset awakened in the dark and musty office of an abandoned warehouse.
Pushing to his feet, he stumbled into the bathroom, and turned the water on. The only light came from outside, filtered through nearly a decade of dirt and grime and the rustling leaves of a tree.
Cupping both hands, he splashed water on his face. He was thirsty, but knew not to drink this water. The cool liquid shocked him to wakefulness, and it was then that the events of the day came back to him. He knew he should be ashamed of the things he'd done, and soon he would be. But first, he needed to sort out the bits and pieces of the past that had invaded his mind. The image that stood out above the others was the face of a man who'd called him Bucky. He said they were friends, that they'd known each other all their lives. However, his most vivid recollections were of the two of them fighting. On a bridge, in the street, and again in an enormous flying ship called a helicarrier.
Steve. The name came to him once again, bringing to mind the face of a blonde man with intelligent blue eyes, wearing a blue, white and red jumpsuit. He carried a round shield that resembled the American flag.
Now, another memory floated to the surface. And a name: Howling Commandoes. With it came the vision of over a hundred men marching through Germany, hiding, fighting, and surviving. It filled him with a sense of pride. Not only in himself, but in the man at whose side he trudged, more tired than he'd ever been. Yet, in spite of the fatigue, he was filled with excitement as they came to a stop in front of a stern older man in uniform and a beautiful, dark-haired woman with a British accent.
Steve, always ready with a smirk and a smart remark, held up the broken transmitter. "Couldn't call my ride."
The Asset heard his own voice saying, "Let's hear it for Captain America!"
A noise drew his attention. Going to the window, he peeked out, but didn't see anything or anyone. No cars, no people. He became aware of more immediate problems when a grumbling noise came from his midsection. It was accompanied by an odd pressure in his lower abdomen.
Going to the toilet, he relieved his bladder. That left only the hollow feeling near his navel. Recognizing it as hunger, the Asset found that he literally could not remember the last time he ate. There wouldn't be anything edible here. Not when the place had been vacant so long.
His enhanced vision guided him to the exit, and just as he was about to open the door, the light glinted off his metal arm. Most people didn't have a limb made of metal. How he knew that, he couldn't remember. It also stood to reason that the rescue teams would know by now that he hadn't died in the crash of the helicarrier, and his description would've gone to the police and National Guard. His clothing was too conspicuous, so before he located food, he'd have to find something else to wear.
The main exit was covered by a bright light. Leaving that way, he could be seen. Staying against the walls of the building, he made his way around until he came to a window that looked out onto a dark and decaying loading dock. Easing the window open, he climbed over the sill, landing without a sound on the hard concrete.
Keeping to the shadows, he made his way down one stinking alley after another until he came to a door marked with the name of a sporting goods store. He used his left hand to pull the metal slab free. Tossing it away, he stepped over the threshold to the accompaniment of jangling alarms. Moving fast, he grabbed what he needed and was long gone before the police arrived. Scanning the sides of the other buildings, he soon found a fire escape.
He ran and jumped, catching hold of the railing, pulling himself up and over. Quickly and quietly, he climbed to the roof, hiding between two heating units until the police left the area before changing his clothes.
Along with the clothing, he'd take several prepackaged meals and a cold drink from the cooler. He ripped the first one open and devoured the contents then a second and a third before the stomach pangs finally stopped. The Asset pulled the sides of the jacket closed, lay down on his side. He went to sleep, and didn't awaken again until the morning sun shone in his face.
A little while later, he made his way to the mouth of the alley, his left hand shoved into a pocket while he worked out his next move. He had no money and it didn't take long for him to see that panhandling wasn't going to work.
Up ahead, he came to a tan building trimmed in white with a six-pointed star over the entrance. He climbed the stairs and went inside. A man was standing at the white draped podium shuffling papers. The rustling sound stopped when he spotted his visitor. "Shalom, my son."
Because he'd been conditioned not to speak except to his team, the Asset hesitated before saying, "I don't have anywhere to go." As if it were an afterthought, he added, "Please."
By this time, the other man had come down to stand in front of the Asset, peering at him curiously through a pair of wire frame glasses. His silver hair was cut short and covered with yarmulke. A white and blue shawl with fringe hung over his shoulders. Seeing this, he realized he'd entered a synagogue.
"Dear boy, you look fermisht." Taking the Asset's arm, the bent and wizened man urged him toward the side door. "Come with me. I'll get you a hot meal, and you can stay here tonight. I'm Norman Shulman, rabbi of this house of the Lord. You can call me Rabbi Norman, or just Norman. Whatever you like." When the Asset didn't immediately respond, Norman smiled kindly. "What's your name, boychick?"
They came to another door, and through the small window set into the wood, the Asset could see a warm and inviting kitchen. Norman was looking at him oddly, obviously expecting an answer. He had a momentary urge to use the name Bucky. Instead, he gave the only other name he knew. "Barnes. James Barnes."