WARNING: This chapter contains spoilers regarding the identity of the Winter Soldier. If you have not read the comics/watched the cartoons and do not know his true identity, please turn back now!
For everyone else, please read and enjoy! This is probably going to be the last chapter for this story arc so I want to thank all of you for reading this story and sticking with me! You guys are amazing! :D
He opens his eyes to a unfamiliar ceiling in an empty room. For a moment he simply lays there and allows his eyes to adjust to the ceiling above, white and sterile like the room around him. It's the same as every time before; he awakens weaponless and alone, naked as a newborn and with his skin still clinging to the lingering chill of the chamber. The room is different than the last one he remembers but that isn't really a surprise; a new room for every new metal table beneath him is the same though, cold and impersonal, detached like he is. It mirrors the metal of his arm like a long-lost brother, a twin being reunited with its other half.
He looks at his arm with the same clinical detachment that he would view the table. His eyes traces over the seamless integration of muscle and metal, bionics mixed with biology. It's a wonder really, something to be marveled and revered. The nameless scientists and agents who tinker with the metallic joints look at it like the holy grail, something akin to awe in their expressions. He feels nothing.
He sits up and swings his legs over the side of the table, standing slowly and allowing his body to readjust to the feeling of gravity and weight after so long in stasis. How many years has it been now? He's not sure; time is irrelevant when it becomes disposable thanks to the wonders of cryogenics. The span of time between his last assignment and now could have been days or decades, he simply doesn't know.
Across the room, another table contains a neatly folded set of clothing and a plain white folder. He takes the folder without getting dressed, standing naked and unconcerned beside the table as he opens the folder. The assignment is in German and it takes him only a second to remember the proper syntax in order to translate the orders with expert precision. His mark is young, a child really, but the details of the assignment insist that he should be eliminated with extreme prejudice.
There is no preference of weapon indicated in the file which is an interesting turn of events. Usually his employers have a preferred method of killing that they would like to see enacted; some prefer the death to look like an accident, others a suicide, some want it to look like a robbery gone wrong. Everyone has a preference for how they want someone else to die but his file is blank in that regard. Interesting. He doesn't bother to question the orders laid out before him; a job is a job and those who have hired him have paid very handsomely indeed.
He takes the clothing and gets dressed mechanically, his movements methodical and measured. The joint connecting his arm to the rest of his body is stiff but he attributes it to the cold storage rather than corrosive damage. The team of nameless scientists will be in to collect him shortly to run diagnostics and recalibrations on the arm; he remembers that much at least.
True to form, a handleless door slides open with a hiss a few feet to his left and a white-suited doctor appears in the room, motioning for him to follow him. There's an interesting contrast between the two of them, the doctor with his pristine, white coat and him with his black clothing and dark hair. Light and dark, reflection and shadow. It's almost funny but he doesn't laugh. He doesn't feel anything.
He quickly discovers that he's being held in a facility just outside of Philadelphia. The facility is government funded and supported, a pharmaceutical lab used to run tests on new drugs and medications in the medical field. There's no reason for anyone to raise any questions with that kind of back story.
So America, then. Interesting. The last time he remembers being in America there was in a plaza in Dallas, Texas and a book depository. His employers had a scapegoat already in place, circumstantial evidence piled everywhere. The assassination would be pinned on him without question; a nation in mourning needed someone to blame quickly and he was the perfect tool for the job. Two shots, a blood spattered limousine, and his job was done. He didn't feel remorse for the killing although the target in question had seemed decent enough in his television appearances. Still, he wasn't hired for his sympathy; it was a job and he was simply a means to an end for a larger picture behind the shadowy curtain of the Cold War.
True, he had been called forward for other jobs since then but a good majority of them were in Europe, foreign dignitaries who had gotten just a little bit too close to something they shouldn't have. He didn't care about their reasons or their pleadings or their promises. He killed them without so much as a hesitation because that's what he had been hired to do. He was a machine, cold and emotionless and deadly. And he was the best at what he did.
He finds himself in another room of the facility and undergoes a full physical that extends through the rest of the day. The scientists that surround him on every side take great care to examine absolutely every inch of him and then some. It doesn't bother him; his body is nothing but a tool, just like the rest of him. The poking and prodding, the cutting and pulling, it's uncomfortable and tiresome but he remains perfectly still and impassive through the entire thing. Somewhere deep in his mind, he knows it should be painful, the things they're doing to him, but he doesn't feel it. He doesn't feel anything.
The reprogramming comes next, a process which takes much longer than the physical. Two entire days are spent introducing him to the new century, files and folders containing political figures, world events, and the current economic status are laid before him in successive order. He memorizes all of it down to the punctuation; he may not have a photographic memory but his retention has always been one of his best assets. Near perfect recall comes in handy with an occupation like his.
It's 2013, or so they tell him, and the world has turned into one large machine. Everything is run by technology now, computers and electronics have taken over the planet. The scientists don't explain it to him but he can understand it without their help; he's brilliant after all, that's another part of his job. Files are accessed and pulled up with the swipe of a finger, pictures and video footage appear on monitors smaller than a sheet of paper. They teach him how to use something called an Iphone and an Ipad which he picks up with impeccable ease (although he doesn't understand the need for both; they do exactly the same thing).
He learns about the presidents that have been in office since his last assignment and the major world events that took place during their terms. He learns about the War on Terror and the conflict in the Middle East. He learns about the economic Depression and the problems with health care. He learns about all of this in just a few hours and is completely caught up with the 21st century by noon. Then he begins learning about his target.
The file he had been given contained the bare minimum: name, age, description; nothing to base a profile off of. When he's mastered world history up to the present, only then is he given access to the rest of the information. This will be the more time consuming than the reprogramming and they all know it. He needs to learn absolutely everything about his target, from where he lives, his personal habits, even the kind of toothpaste he uses. It's all vital in understanding the man he's been hired to kill.
The scientists leave him alone in one of the rooms and run a continuous film reel across a projection screen. The footage is dated to a little over a year before he had been reawakened, the summer of 2012. If the country thought it had problems with its current state of affairs, they couldn't hold a candle to the problems it faced in the wake of an alien invasion. Inter-dimensional portals, hostile invaders, it was like something straight out of a science fiction novel. The news footage assures him it wasn't though.
His target is displayed prominently on the screen, one of six who helped prevent the destruction of New York. He's the leader, or at least he appears to be in the footage. Odd that the other five would follow the orders of such a young commander but he doesn't ask questions. He's not here for such trivial ponderings, he only needs tangible information.
He watches the footage several times, memorizing every attack and evasive maneuver the young man employs. He memorizes his battle plans, his commands, the way the others listen to him. It's remarkably successful and heroic and he does admit to a slight tug of mutual appreciation for a battle well fought. Most of his marks are not combat trained and die begging on their knees. This one might be different.
Another file is laid out before him containing every bit of information that could be gathered on the man in question. It's thick, filled with redacted and blacked out files from the archives of every major government agency in the country. Apparently this young man had been around much longer than he first realized. Born in Brooklyn in 1926, grew up in an orphanage after his mother died in 1933. A sickly child with an unremarkable childhood until he successfully joined the army after several failed attempts toward the end of 1942. Promoted to Captain, led several successful missions with an elite team known as the Howling Commandos. Personally took on a faction of Hydra while fighting in World War II. Reportedly killed in action after his plane went down in 1943. A short, violent, and tragic life; at least that's what the files maintained until the summer of 2011 when he was discovered frozen in the ice and successfully revived in an undisclosed location in New York City.
The similarities between their revivals was unusual but not uncommon; ice has the ability to preserve the body indefinitely but life can be restored with the proper techniques. The fact that they they were both recovered from the ice is interesting but he wastes very little time dwelling on it. Instead, he turns his attention back to the folder in front of him.
He recognizes the young man on a fundamental level, a recognition that comes from fame and legend. He was the country's golden boy, the army's perfect soldier, and a true American hero. Rising from nothing to become a household name overnight. There were even stamps with his face on them. Steve Rogers; the name itself screams all-American upbringing and white picket fences. He was America's hero, both in the past and now in the present, but even heroes have to die some time.
His assignment required that Rogers be eliminated by the end of the week, no exceptions and no excuses. His employers wanted speed and efficiency and he had promised his service. It's nothing personal; it never is. A job is a job and that's all there is to it. He memorizes the rest of the file and flips it closed. By the end of the week, Steve Rogers would be dead and this time there would be no coming back.
He finds himself across the street from a cafe, a hat pulled low over his eyes and his face partially hidden by a newspaper. Rogers is across the street, sitting at a small table with well-dressed man in a grey suit and a woman with strawberry blond hair. The man and woman appear to be discussing something rather intently while Rogers sketches the skyline silently in a wire-bound book on the table. He looks young, younger than he did in the files and film footage, and for the first time since he was reawakened, the assassin finds himself questioning what the kid has done to earn such a hit placed on his head.
Logically he knows it has to do with his employers and their reasons are not to be questioned. They have a reason for wanting him dead so badly and that's all he needs to know. It doesn't bother him and it doesn't change his assignment; Rogers will be dead by midnight and his assignment will be complete. He's just curious, that's all.
He watches the three of them carefully, memorizing facial expressions and body language. Rogers doesn't appear as relaxed as the other two, his back a bit straighter and his posture just slightly more rigid than the man and woman joining him. It can probably be attributed to his time in the war, living in the midst of a firefight for weeks and months at a time. The other two don't appear to notice it or if they do, they've grown accustomed to it. Occasionally, the redheaded woman will touch his arm and his posture will relax for a few seconds before carefully settling back into its rigid form. The man in the suit makes a few jokes and Rogers will smile at the effort but he never fully relaxes. Always on edge, always ready for the blow he'll never see coming. Too bad he doesn't know about the price on his head.
He's already scoped out the Tower Rogers lives in, taking stock of the onsite security and those he lives with. The security system was extraordinarily difficult to infiltrate, not impossible but definitely top of the line. His employers provided live security footage from the Tower and he uses it to familiarize himself with the layout. Rogers lives on the 34th floor with a security code locked door. An individual access key card and a personal identification scanner are used to gain entry into both Rogers' room and that level of the Tower. The Tower itself is guarded by artificial intelligence and constant surveillance. Once again, difficult to get past but not impossible; nothing a targeted EMP won't solve. He's faced worse odds before and much more difficult assignments, this one is nothing more than a minor inconvenience.
He stands slowly, pulling his hat a bit lower and tucking the newspaper under one arm. Rogers notices his movement from across the street, always alert just as he suspected, and eyes him carefully for a moment. There's the briefest flash of something close to recognition in his eyes and he stands slowly as well, stepping past the table and onto the sidewalk to get a better look. The assassin pauses briefly although he can't explain why. For a short moment, a heartbeat in time, they lock eyes and then he's gone, disappearing into a tour group and becoming just another face in the crowd.
Rogers looked as though he recognized him for a moment, however fleeting and puzzling the encounter seemed. He saw something pass over his face, a haunted expression that couldn't be hidden. Let him think what he wants, he doesn't care. Rogers may think he recognizes him but he's mistaken. They've never met before and he's certain of that. It won't change his fate either; he's going to die tonight and that's all there is to it.
He sits motionless for hours, watching the Tower silently until the moment is right. The hours creep forward slowly, shifting from pm to am, the blackened sky above getting darker as the night deepens. Just after 2 am, he stands soundlessly, unfolding out of the shadows like he'd been born there. He crosses the empty street in long strides, coming to a stop at the base of the Tower and pressing a metallic disc to the access card panel next to the front doors to the lobby. A split second later, the panel is overridden and the doors unlock quietly. He steps inside, the door swinging closed and locking behind him.
The override allows for a 45 second window of no surveillance and he utilizes that opportunity to cross the lobby and slip into an empty elevator shaft just as the cameras flicker back to life. Scaling the outside of the car, he walks across the roof and wraps his hands around the thick cables. The shaft stretches up endlessly in the darkness, the cables extending on for what seems like miles. He doesn't waste any time focusing on the climb and simply begins hoisting himself up the cables, one hand over the other as he climbs up into the darkness.
By the time he reaches the correct floor, he's sweating and his arms are shaking but he doesn't stop. Pain is irrelevant and fatigue is useless; he has a job to do. The hallway is empty, the lights dimmed and low. Two cameras are tucked away in the corners of hall, watching carefully for any sign of movement. The AI that runs dual surveillance on the house has not discovered his presence yet and he plans to keep it that way.
He pulls out a the Iphone he'd been supplied with and types in the code his employers had provided. The cover would be temporary, a minute at best, but it would give him time to gain access into Rogers' room before anything was deemed amiss by the security features. A moment later, the lights on the cameras blink out before coming back on and flashing in a steady pulse. The video footage would be looped for several seconds, making it appear as though the hallway had been empty all along. He walks across the hall, pressing the metallic disc to the access panel outside of Rogers' room and opens the door.
The room is dark when he steps inside, the only light coming from a small lamp sitting on the desk across the room. The floor is laid out much the same way an apartment would be with a living area and kitchen in the center and a bedroom off to the side. The bedroom door is closed, shutting off the living room and everything in it. He crosses the room silently and pushes the door open with one hand.
The room is dark but he can make out Rogers' form on one side of the bed. He's laying on his side, arms crossed over his chest and eyes closed lightly. His breathing is deep and even, an indication of heavy sleep, and it seems almost odd that he appears so relaxed now when earlier in the day he had been so on edge. It makes no difference and he crosses the room to the sleeping figure soundlessly. He gets right to the edge of the bed before Rogers springs awake.
Blue eyes snap open and a hand shoots forward to block the metallic hand coming down toward his throat. He uses the momentum as leverage to roll off the bed in the opposite direction, landing on the other side of the mattress and staring his attacker down coldly. For a moment, neither of them move, they both eye each other silently in the darkness to see who will attack first. The assassin takes the initiative and propels himself over the bed, slamming the soldier into the wall with enough force to crack the plaster.
The soldier grunts in pain but stays upright, sweeping one leg beneath the assassin's feet and knocking him to the ground. The assassin keeps his hold on him though and both tumble to the ground heavily. There's a painful crack against his jaw and he can feel his lip split beneath the fabric of the mask covering his mouth. The soldier is above him, fist still clenched and ready to strike another blow but the assassin reacts before he can, kicking up off with a heavy boot to the chest.
His target crashes into the bedside table, knocking the lamp onto the floor and causing it to flicker to life. The room is cast in dull, yellow light and there's a flash of recognition in the soldier's eyes. "You," he mutters, his body dropped into a defensive crouch. "I saw you earlier. You were watching us at the cafe."
The assassin says nothing, standing slowly and cracking his neck on the way up. He can see the soldier clearly now, hair disheveled and clothing rumpled from the fight. He looks young, very young, and there is an almost imperceptible twitch of something in the assassin's gut as he looks at him. He ignores it and lunges forward again, grabbing the soldier by the throat with his metal hand and slamming him into the wall.
The younger man's hands wrap around the metal of his wrist and he coughs hoarsely, struggling to break loose. One knee comes up, catching the assassin in the chest and knocking him backward. The soldier is on him them, wisely twisting the metal arm behind his back and wrapping his other arm around the assassin's throat from behind. "Who sent you?" He growls in his ear, tightening his grip on both the arm and his throat. "Tell me!"
The assassin doesn't answer, instead grabbing the younger man's arm with his free hand and flipping him over his shoulder before he can react. The soldier crashes to the floor heavily, biting back a grunt of pain at the collision. His arms come to to block the next attack, one hand pushing the assassin away while the fingers of his other hand tangle in the fabric of the mask covering his face. They are evenly matched, both incredibly strong and equally determined to succeed. All it would take is one split second of broken concentration to gain the upper hand. There's a faint ripping sound of fabric and the mask is torn away, now little more than shredded black cloth.
The soldier stops struggling then, his eyes widening and the blood draining from his face. "Bucky…?" He asks, his voice quiet and shaking with disbelief. The assassin uses it to his advantage and wraps his hand around his throat again.
The younger man coughs and struggles against the hand pinning him to the floor. "Bucky...it's me…" he gasps, pushing against him with everything he has. "It's Steve…!"
The assassin simply tightens his grip. "Sorry, pal, no one by that name here."
The younger man pushes against him once more, gaining a bit of leverage and shoving him off in a burst of strength. The assassin staggers back but regains his footing almost instantly, lunging into another attack. Rogers dodges and blocks, the shock and surprise now replaced with adrenaline and fight or flight instinct. "Bucky...stop!" He growls, blocking a fist with one arm and an uppercut with the other. "It's me…!"
A fist crashes into his temple and the younger man goes down instantly, dazed and disoriented. A heavy boot catches him in the ribs and he tumbles across the floor, gasping and bleeding. The assassin is on him again, pinning both arms with his knees and gripping his throat once more.
Rogers gasps and chokes, his face going crimson from lack of oxygen. "Buc...ky…" he chokes, his voice a little more than a croaked groan. "It's...me…"
He glares down at him, watching the light fade from his eyes and struggle die down beneath him. Both hands are wrapped around his throat, fingers pressing down heavily on both the carotid and jugular. His thumbs are right above the hyoid bone, tendons and cartilage bending beneath the pressure. All it would take is just a little more, crush the trachea and snap his neck and the assignment would be complete. But he can't.
He hesitates, he's never hesitated before but right now...he does. Rogers is going still beneath him, his eyes beginning to roll back in his head from lack of oxygen and the cut off circulation to his brain. The struggling is coming to an end, unconsciousness and death are mere seconds away...and he hesitates.
Bucky. The soldier had called him Bucky. He acted as if he'd known him, a long forgotten person from a long forgotten past. The haunted recognition in his eyes, the pleading tone in his voice, he believed him to be someone he wasn't. He doesn't have a name, he never did, and if he ever did have one it certainly wasn't Bucky. Names belong to humans and he wasn't human, he was a machine. Cold, unfeeling, calculating; that's how they made him. So why was he hesitating now?
Rogers has stop struggling entirely by this point, his body beginning to go limp on the floor, and he feels his hand loosening ever so slightly against his throat. His orders were to kill him, no excuses and no exceptions. So why can't he do it?
"Steve!" There's a blast of energy from behind him and a powerful forces slams into his metal arm. It's strong enough to knock him backwards but not strong enough to take him down. He lands against the opposite wall and looks back toward the door to see the man from the cafe standing in the threshold. He's no longer wearing a suit, dressed down in a t-shirt and jeans, but the repulsor weapon glowing in his hand is enough to grab anyone's attention.
Without waiting for an explanation he fires again, just barely missing the assassin. The wall crumbles behind him, opening up to the skyline of the city below. Across the room, Rogers is coughing hoarsely and struggling to sit up but the man with the repulsor is standing over him protectively and glaring at the intruder.
He knows he could take them both; it may be more challenging now that one of the men has an energy weapon literally in the palm of his hand but not impossible. He doesn't though and he's not sure why. This assignment is no different than any of the others, another target for another employer; just a job. But he can't finish the assignment, he can't kill Rogers and he doesn't know why. He feels something that he doesn't have a name for, something he doesn't know if he's ever felt before. That is unusual in itself; he usually doesn't feel anything.
Rogers is on his elbows, still coughing and struggling to regain his breath, but his eyes lock on him briefly. "Bucky…" he croaks again, his voice broken and harsh. "Don't…"
He doesn't wait for whatever else the soldier is about to say and flips himself out of the crumbled wall behind him. Another blast of energy nearly hits him on the way out, the heat grazing the side of his face as he falls into open space. The grappling gun on his belt dislodges easily and his fires it toward a building across the street. It hooks onto a ledge and he swings down onto the pavement, breaking into a run the minute his feet touch the ground. The Tower disappears behind him, fading into the distance as he runs. He doesn't stop until he's at least a mile away, walking the empty streets silently.
He's failed...he's never failed an assignment before. He failed because of Rogers. He can't explain it, he doesn't have the words, but he knows that's the reason. That's the only explanation. But why? They don't know each other, he's certain of that, but Rogers had looked at him with such conviction in his eyes, such recognition...he can't explain it.
He called him Bucky. That name...it's completely foreign, alien, unknown. That's not his name, it never was. But it triggers something cold and sharp deep inside, like icy waters filling his veins. It feels like ice...like snow-capped mountains and icy train tracks and frigid water...it feels like…
He crosses the street and disappears into a shadow. The metal arm aches at his side, cold and shining like a frozen pond. Like ice. Like falling through ice...it feels like falling...He shakes his head and keeps walking, disappearing deeper into the shadows of the city.
For the first time that he can remember, he feels something deep inside. Something is trying to claw its way to the surface, fingernails scratching against the cold, ice-covered patches of his mind. He wants to shake it off but he can't so he lets it claw deeply at his subconscious. He doesn't know if he should let it out, what will happen when it makes it to the surface. He allows himself to be absorbed into the darkness...and he doesn't know how to feel.
I felt it was appropriate to begin and end this story arc with Bucky; it just seems to fit. There will be a follow-up story to this chapter in the next few days so never fear; the cliffhanger does not end here! Thanks for reading guys! :D