You're not the man he remembers. Not anymore, anyway. You might have been, at some point, but if that's true you can't seem to bring up any memories of it. "Bucky" is just a foreign name, attached to a face that looks like yours but unattached to any sense of yourself.
But you hate that look he gets on his face when you stare back at him blankly when he says that name. Some part of you just knows that such a look of disappointment and poorly hidden sadness should never be on his face, least of all caused by you. It makes your throat go dry and your chest hurt every time he looks at you like that, and it's so different from all the kinds of pain you're familiar with that you will do anything to make it stop.
It's easy enough to train yourself to respond to the name; you've answered to so many names that as long as you block out the reverence, familiarity, and care that he manages to fit inside those two syllables, it's almost the same as answering to "soldier" or any other meaningless title you've been given.
You've stopped denying facts when he recounts memories from your shared past, and instead you try to commit the stories to memory, so that the next time he mentions it you can nod and try to repeat parts that you've learned, which leaves a bitter taste in your mouth but is worth it to see his face light up for a few moments. He looks so much better when he's actually smiling instead of trying to hide his disappointment behind half smiles and gentle gestures.
Making choices is harder, because how are you supposed to know whether you'd rather have pizza or Chinese or spaghetti for dinner you can't even remember eating meals for the past seventy years? All the TV shows are basically the same, so why does it matter which one you watch? But sometimes you see the way he responds to your apathy and so you manage to pick one just to wipe that goddamned kicked puppy look off his face.
It's not all gone, not completely, but you remember more about him than you do about yourself. You remember what each of his expressions mean, and sometimes you remember them on a skinny, frail body, glancing up at you with such an overwhelming amount of trust that you can barely breathe.
Most of your remembering involves pain and blood and screams and happens in the dead of night, and usually ends with torn sheets and dented headboards and Steve whispering tiny words of comfort after dodging two of you blows. You know he's trying to help, but it's hard to believe "it's okay" when your arm feels like it's literally on fire and your eyelids are burned with the image of a six year old girl crying over mother's dead body before you shoot her in the head.
You agree to move in with the others because you think Steve will be better off with someone else to talk to besides you, because even you realize your conversation skills aren't exactly cocktail party ready. (In a smaller, more selfish part of your brain, you think that maybe with other people around he won't have as much time to give you the kicked puppy stare.)
You find yourself liking the others despite your better judgment and despite the fact you catalogue six different ways to kill each of them at any given time (you assure yourself it's mostly practical, and only a little psychotic).
Stark is annoying and talks too much and makes inappropriate jokes that make Steve frown but you find you don't mind all that much and let him look at your arm and even let him upgrade your neurosensors after a few weeks.
Banner is quiet to Stark's loud, and always find a smile for you even though you're pretty sure you've only had glares for him He doesn't try and give you advice, and just nods his acceptance when you snap at him for whatever happens to be on your mind at the time. He doesn't tell you he understands, never tries to empathize with your pain, and for that reason you think he understands more than most of the others.
You think the archer whose smile never quite reaches his eyes understands, at least on some level, although he likes to make jokes about your metal arm and Russia and just about everything else, and while a small part of you itches to crush his trachea in your fist the rest of you enjoys the lighthearted humor he finds in what should be dark and twisted.
And the red headed Russian woman, who seems to know most of all, with her knowing smiles and casual contact that feel surprisingly familiar and comfortable. Everyone else calls her Natasha but Natalia always happens to fall off your lips, and she doesn't even blink before responding to you.
Moving in with all of them has been an improvement you didn't think was possible. It's nice to be looked at by people who didn't know you before, that aren't constantly comparing you to Bucky.
It makes it that much easier to crawl into bed beside Steve at night, because the nightmares really do come less often when you're not alone.
"Man, you really need to get a hobby," Sam tells you one morning when he walks into the kitchen and sees you sitting silently in the corner. You open your mouth to reply but he adds, "Brooding creepily in the shadows does not count as a hobby."
That's partially how you end up in the gym, sparring with Natasha. You were skeptical at first because you're still not really sure what will trigger you and although you know exactly how much pressure is required for your metal arm to be lethal, it's hard to see people as more than a series of weak points and kill opportunities. But Natasha is very convincing, although it's more your body's itch to move and fight than her assurances that she can handle it that wins you over.
You've missed this, you realize, as you fall into the familiar rhythm, block deflect attack deflect, and as you start to sweat for the first time in months because of something other than nightmares, your body feels almost like your own again. It's been edited and modified and redone countless times but no it's you in control, you deciding to block that punch and duck under that arm and take her feet out from under her with a simple sweep of your leg.
You overcome her twice before she starts to learn how you fight (or maybe she was just going easy on you at first). The third round she manages to drop you flat on your back, lungs burning, while she presses a knife to your throat with her ever present smirk on her face. You're stunned, but only for a second, and then you grin, because she's the first person to make you feel human since 1944.
It really shouldn't be that big of a deal. It was just some offhand remark, a small observation that you never used to take sugar in his coffee, but it is a big deal and you storm out of the kitchen without so much as looking back when Steve calls concernedly after you.
You end up in the gym, viciously attacking a punching bag until your left hand proves too much for it and you have to get another one.
"Stark's going to be annoyed if you start destroying all the punching bags too, you know."
You don't pause when you hear Natasha's voice, although you do think absently that she's one of the only people in the world that could successfully sneak up on you. She stalks past your line of demolished punching bags (there are four, but the fifth is very close) and smirks in your direction. "Want to try something that punches back?"
You fight until you physically can't anymore, until your muscles are screaming and you're soaked in sweat and you're pinning her to the wall through sheer brute force. At some point your grip loosens and you both sink to the floor, leaning against each other by default, mostly because you can't find the energy to do anything besides breathe.
You sit in silence for a long time before she finally says quietly in Russian, "You're upset about something."
She doesn't phrase it as a question, but somehow it feels wrong not to respond. You turn your head to look at hear, briefly, before turning your gaze back to the nothing you'd been staring at before. "I can't take how he looks at me," you say finally, in English.
"Steve cares about you," she says. "He wants to help you."
"Don't you think I know that?" you snap. "But every time he looks at me…I'm trying, I want him to be happy, I don't want to be such a fucking disappointment but I don't know how to make myself remember. And every time he looks at me I see it in his eyes, how much I'm failing, how I'm not the person he remembers, and I don't want Steve to be sad but…" you trail off, out of words, closing your eyes against the moisture welling up behind them.
Natasha threads her fingers through yours and squeezes gently before saying softly, "Maybe it's not about being you were before. Maybe it's about figuring out who you are now."
"I'm not him," you say that night in bed.
"Not who?" Steve asks just a little sleepily.
"I'm not Bucky," you reply. "At least not the Bucky you remember."
"Of course you are," Steve says, rolling onto his side to look at you. "You're my best friend and -"
"Stop," you snap before you can stop yourself, and you want to kick yourself when he visibly flinches at your harsh tone. "Just…I need you to listen to me."
He nods slowly. "I'm listening, Buck."
You let out your breath in a rush. "I…I can't just go back to what I was before. That person, his memories…they died, Steve, he died that day on the train. The things I've done…everything I've been through, whether I remember it or not, is a part of me. I'm not him anymore, and I'm trying to be, because I can see how sad it makes you when I'm not, but I don't want to take on another role, become someone I'm not. I want to be me, Steve,whoever that is."
He's silent for so long you're afraid you've ruined everything, lost him forever, and the thought makes your veins run cold with panic. After all this the thought of losing him now is like being asked to drown yourself in a bucket of ice water, because you're not even sure you'll be able to breathe if he leaves you, and so you add, in a small voice, "I don't know who I am, yet, but I know that I need you, Steve."
He shifts so that you're lying side by side, just barely touching. "That's good, because whether you like it or not, you've got me 'til the end of the line."
If his super soldier eyesight sees the tear that escapes your eye in the dark, he chooses not to mention it.
You still don't know who you are quiet yet, but you do know that you're finding out a little bit more each day, whether it's figuring out that you like the new Disney movies or that grocery shopping scares the living shit out of you. It doesn't seem so hard, discovering yourself one piece at a time, especially with Steve there to laugh and joke with about your newfound character traits.
Steve is trying so hard to stop talking about the past, often stopping midsentence when he realizes he's lapsed into a memory or reminiscent line of thought. You don't feel like you're constantly being compared to the Bucky of the past, anymore, and that within itself makes your new life all the easier to enjoy.
It's three weeks later when Steve brings the subject up. You're lounging on the couch, watching whatever movies Jarvis recommends, when Steve says, "Do you want to change your name?"
It's an abrupt question and you just blink at him for a second before it really penetrates your brain. "You don't think Bucky fits anymore?" The thought hurts, a little more than you want it to.
Steve shrugs. "You'll always be Bucky to me. But I understand that you're different now, and if you want a different name to match yourself, one you like better, I'm more than happy to change. It'll take me awhile but I'll get it eventually."
You think about it for a long time before you finally decide what you want. "I like Bucky," you tell him. "They took everything else from me, and the least I can get back is my name. They can't take that from me."
It's true, what you tell him, but your other reason is that you love the way he says it, like Bucky is the best name in the world, and you really like hearing him say it.
He stopped asking you twice a week if you want a haircut after your late night heart to heart. You had always just shrugged before, apathetic to how you wore your hair. The length of your hair just never seemed all that important.
It takes you two months to bring it up yourself, and when you do Steve asks if you want him to go with you.
You tell him no because this is about you, you want to prove that you can function on your own and getting your hair cut by yourself seems to be as good a test as any. Going out in public by alone (or at all, really) is still hard, because it's second nature to analyze escape routes, weak points, and possible weapons in any unfamiliar location.
The barber shop is busy enough, but that's okay because it means almost no one's paying attention to you. Still, you pull your sleeve down to cover your metal arm self-consciously, because the fewer stares the better.
You have to ball your hands into fists so hard you draw blood when the barber comes at you with a pair of scissors. You force yourself to swallow down the instinct to snap his neck in one go as he deftly cuts locks of your hair, scissors always seeming just a little too close to your throat.
The Bucky Barnes that looks back at you in the mirror after he's done doesn't look like the Winter Soldier, but also doesn't quite look like the pictures in the Smithsonian. The style is different, new, and somewhere in between the two.
That, you think, is exactly how it should be.