It had only been about 36 hours since the helicarrier had gone down. The asset hadn’t been out of cryo this long since the initial testing and experiment phase, and he was beginning to understand why: like putting together a jigsaw puzzle, The Asset was beginning to remember.
It came in flashes: sometimes no more than a sentence or two at a time. They were out of order, too. Eating spaghetti at a table across from a tiny blonde boy while a woman ... a mother... his mother(?) opened a bottle of pop. Then he was thirty stories up; a long-range sniper rifle balanced on his shoulder as he watched a fat politician through the sight. Then he was dancing in a crowded dance hall, two women seeming to vie for his attention while he daydreamed, staring out the door, as if he was waiting for someone else to show up.
On the subway he had found a long-forgotten, ratty hoodie; it would have to do for the time being. He found someone under a bridge who had traded a pair of blue jeans for his leather jacket. He kept the Kevlar undersuit; undoubtedly Pierce would be looking for him. Pierce had made it very clear what would happen if he defied him.
So why was he wandering aimlessly around the streets of DC instead of going to the rendezvous point? His communications had gone dead after the hellicarriers went down. He had pulled a newspaper out of the trash and it seemed like everything had gone to hell. If Pierce wasn’t looking for him, someone would be.
No. The real reason he abandoned his post was him . The man on the bridge. The man in the hellicarrier. The man in the star-spangled uniform.
The Asset closed his eyes and tried to remember the file... Alias: Captain America.
Another puzzle piece fell into place. He was huddled in some barracks somewhere. ‘Check this toon out’ someone says and tosses him a book. A comic boo k. A man in a red, white and blue uniform punches Hitler in the face. He flips it over and there’s an advertisement for War Bonds on the back cover. A drastically more detailed, handsome man is asking the reader to buy Bonds. He looks vaguely familiar. He has a shield. It’s the same man that was on the bridge...
Captain America. How could Captain America have known him ? He said they were friends, but none of the puzzle pieces he had found yet had Captain America on them.
Bucky. That was what he had said his name was. Who the hell was Bucky? Could that really be his real name? James Buchanan Barnes. Bucky. Bucky Barnes...
A few dozen more flashes of memory and the soldier doubled over and grabbed the side of his head.
“Bucky! You come inside right this instant!” a woman yells sternly, standing in the doorway and wiping her flour-covered hands on an apron.
“Bucky!” A pretty blonde woman shouts at a fair, waving to get his attention.
“I can take care of myself, Bucky,” a small blonde boy says as he w ipes away blood running from his nose.
“ James Buchana n Barnes!” A man says in a low, serious voice as he waves a handful of dirty postcards in his face that he had pulled out from under his bed.
He didn’t even know he was gritting his teeth until a passer by spoke to him, pulling him out of his head, “You OK, man?” the teenaged boy in a FuBu hoodie asked, looking more amused than concerned. The asset didn’t answer him; he just turned and walked away.
Night was settling in, and his body ached. Running his hands through his hair, he wandered until he found a quiet alley and sat down, letting his head lean against the scratchy brick of the building, and finally let himself get a few hours of sleep.
It rained during the night, and when he woke up he was soaked down to the skin. He sighed, but it wasn’t the first time he would have to keep on like this. Generally, he wouldn’t change or bathe until a mission was over. Then he’d be taken back to the lab, unceremoniously stripped and hastily hosed off in the r oom’s chemical shower before his pre -cryo electroshock treatment.
That wasn’t an option here of course. Instead, he just figured he would walk around in the sun until he dried off. As he strolled down the Mall, a big banner caught his eye: Captain America. An exclusive exhibit was being advertised at the Smithsonian.
He hesitated; his hand plunged into his pockets. There was a lump in his throat as he considered whether or not he wanted to pull on that thread. It may not lead anywhere... or worse it co uld give him answers he wasn’t ready to hear. But that face was staring at him, the man on the bridge’s face, begging him to see. To remember.
He made his way in, ignoring the unsavory looks from tourists. The security guards frowned at him and shook their heads – he knew they would be watching him closely to make sure he wouldn’t be harassing the patrons for handouts.
He barely noticed the other exhibits. His hooded eyes darted around, looking for the bright red, white, and blue banners that pointed him to the Captain America exhibit. When he finally turned the corner and entered the floor, he was nearly knocked back by the flashes of sights and sounds. It was nearly sensory overload – there was the Captain – standing there behind his mannequin. The Winter Soldier felt his chest tighten as he walked further into the panoramic displays of text, videos and images.
The name caught his eye. Off to the right was a display with an eerily familiar face. James Buchanan Barnes. Inseparable in both the schoolyard and the battlefield. It was true – staring at him right in the face. His mind tumbled: more flashes of memories.
That name rattled around in his head. He could hear that name in his head, in his own voice. But it still didn’t fit. It didn’t fit until...
He turned around and came nose to nose with a holographic display that showed the stunning change. Before he was this statuesque Adonis, he was a tiny, sickly, towheaded, bent little boy.
His friend. His best friend.
Endless memories of childhood came flooding back. That little boy who couldn’t back down from a fight – who lost his parents young and tried not to let the world crush him. He knew him. He had spent countless hours in detention due to that punk kid who stole his heart the first time he laid eyes on him. He was his . His responsibility. His best friend. A small sickly boy that Bucky admired because all that the world ever gave him was hardship, but he never, ever, let the badness of the world break his spirit. He honestly couldn’t hav e known how long he stood there; the puzzle was taking shape, slowly, still missing major gaps. With Steve came childhood, his parents, schoolmates, and girlfriends.
He was standing there, motionless, with silent tears streaming down his face. Suddenly, his hand was over his mouth, coking back sobs and shoulders shaking. It only stopped when he felt something latch onto his knees. The Soldier reacted, snapping out of his flashbacks and his left arm reaching up with an electronic whirr. Thankfully, his reaction time was fast, for the thing latching around his knees was a small three year old boy, dressed in a little Iron Man shirt. He was looking up at him with big hazel eyes and puffy cheeks.
“ It will be akay,” th e boy said with a pat. Bucky was frozen: eyes red and wide, arm still poised in the striking position.
“Jonathan!” A woman shrieked, snatching back the child and shuffling away, mumbling to the boy about talking to strangers. Bucky let out a shuddering breath, suddenly realizing that people were beginning to stare.
“You a soldier?”
His eyes went over to another gentleman with pitted mocha skin and salt-and-pepper hair.
Bucky slowly lowered his arm, pulling the sleeve self-consciously over his hand to hide the metallic glint. He didn’t answer, but he didn’t need to. The man was already pulling a card out of his wallet.
“I go to a support group at the VA. They can probably help you, friend,” he said, pressing a VA business card and a $20 bill into his palm.
Bucky’s eyes dropped to his hand, then his eyes darted back up to the friendly stranger before he finally managed a shaky nod and he quickly scuttled away, shoving the card and the money deep into his pockets. It wouldn’t be the last time he would come to visit the Smithsonian: the closest he dared get to feeling his connection to the man on the bridge again.