February 15, 2017:

Cutscene. Sometimes open wounds need to be burned shut.

New York City


NPCs: None.

Mentions: Jane Foster, Steve Rogers


Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

Even with John Constantine's mystical sleep-seal securely in place, James Buchanan Barnes still preferred to sleep alone on the couch whenever possible. Ostensibly it was because he was still a little afraid of killing Jane in her sleep— the seal was a good safety mechanism, but it still needed John's judgment to activate and Bucky wasn't sure how fast the man could react at any given time— but in reality, on a day to day basis, it was for more prosaic reasons.

He didn't feel like disturbing Jane the times nightmares shocked him awake, sending him shaking and sweating and all but falling into the washroom to throw up.

He was dimly surprised that he'd been able to put on as good a show as he had so far. It was admittedly much easier to do when necessity drove him— when the people who'd come for him and Jane were paying much more regular calls than he was strictly ready for, standing there right in front of him and talking to him in ways he hadn't been talked to in seventy years. He thought the saddest thing of all was that after seven decades of torture, kindness had become something that caused him nervous strain. He could not figure out how to gracefully wear love anymore. All of him was on tenterhooks, waiting for the expected pain.

None of them had wanted to burden him, so their mouths had made the right consoling sounds. Their eyes, though, all bore that same haggard sleeplessness that looked at him and needed him to be okay, because they weren't, and if he wasn't okay then their suffering was for nothing.

So he was okay, for them. Bucky Barnes had spent his early life being what his family and Steve needed him to be, and Sergeant James Barnes had spent his career being what his men needed him to be, and it was a habit that died hard even after the Winter Soldier raised his head and eclipsed them both.

Nonetheless, it was not something even he could sustain forever.

It's only been a little over two weeks since their escape, and in that time he's only just started to vaguely grasp at the outer edges of the vast amount of memories now abruptly available to him. Decades of missing time were not easily sifted, even with his mind's enhanced data-processing capabilities post-serum, because while data was one thing— languages, new skills, the knowledge to operate in a new century— memories were entirely another. Day after day, he'd gone through countless mental filing cabinets of missions, names, faces— all of it just an attempt to even begin sorting the truth from the lies— and he was sure there was still much he had yet to recall. Much that wouldn't come to him until he found himself face to face with the result, devastated, remembering of a sudden what his hands had done while his true self slept.

He hadn't been sure what to feel or think at first, about everything that had happened to him and the scale of what he had done, but something started to slowly take shape after the shock wore off. Something hot and violent and grimly satisfied to have all the skills of efficient destruction that the Winter Soldier had developed over the years.

They would be needed.

He started to quietly leave the apartment when Jane went to bed. He was James with her up until he heard her breathing slow to the regularity of sleep; then he got up, geared up, and became… not Sergeant Barnes, not the Winter Soldier, but something with the skills of both and a deep-seated rage neither had possessed.

He had a cache of equipment— his full loadout for his final mission as the Winter Soldier and a little more besides, all liberated quietly from beneath Ozone Park— and he had a head full of information that was suddenly very valuable.

His timeframe was limited, however. He had no doubt that Hydra had received word of its rogue cell's disastrous defection, and was in the process of withdrawing its many feelers from New York. Strike, fade, recuperate, strike again. That was the Hydra way.

The bigger operations disappeared first. Those were gone by the time he got to them, returned to being mere banks and high rises and hospitals, nothing left to suggest that they had previously been twisted out of true to become the warped cells of a metastasizing, many-headed cancer. But if he roamed out farther, out to where Hydra presence dwindled down to outposts and drop points… there, he found diseased flesh that had not yet been cut free of the city's body.

In the modern era, Hydra operated primarily by hiding in plain sight. Outposts could be as prosaic as, say, someone's charming little detached home in Maspeth, Queens: or at least, the space beneath someone's charming little detached home in Maspeth, Queens. A space with which he was familiar. He had suffered pain there.

At around 1:30 AM, the silhouette of the Winter Soldier intercepted two people moving boxes out of the cellar of the house, and then vanished within.

By 2:15 AM, Bucky Barnes was on a rooftop miles away, finishing a cigarette in silence as he watched thick smoke curl into the sky, and listened to the distant wail of approaching fire engines.

There was a spot of blood on his left arm, which he did not notice.

It all felt too much like what he did as the Winter Soldier, brought the Winter Soldier far too close back to the surface, but in these moments— watching one small part of his past literally burn— he didn't care. There was a visceral satisfaction to be found in the fierce glow of the fire that no amount of kind words could ever have given to him.

Soon enough, he stubbed out his cigarette and left. He had no desire to encounter law enforcement, rescue personnel, and least of all (unlikely, but not beyond possibility if he knew what this location was) Steve.

He didn't feel quite like he had watched his fill, but he had no doubt there would be more than enough repeat performances in the future.

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