Falcon and the Winter Soldier
by Gabrielle Lawson
Audio copy: You can listen to this story on my podcast: There Are Three of Me. It is read in Ep63 S4E10. You can find There Are Three of Me on Spotify, Google Podcasts, and .
Sam sighed in frustration as he checked his phone again. His last text from Bucky was over two weeks ago. And that was a week after the cookout. The cookout in which he'd seen the man smile more than he'd probably done before in his hundred and six year life. He smiled, he laughed. Hell, he'd confided in Sam that he'd felt normal. Bucky Barnes had felt normal. That was huge!
And now he was back to ignoring Sam's texts. Sam didn't get it. Bucky said he'd done the work. He'd made the amends, had the hard talks. He was working on forgiving himself—for what was never his fault to begin with. And smiling. So, what now?
Sam knew well enough that PTSD was complex and rarely resolved by checking things off on a list. Bucky's head had been scrambled so many times, it was amazing he could put a coherent sentence together—not that he would ever tell Bucky that—or at least not in that way.
He'd let that silence go before. He'd been dealing with his own return to a world five years ahead of him, and the weight of that shield. But these last few months had been different. Bucky had opened up to him—on two occasions. He put up a decent façade of having it together most of the time, but he'd let Sam see that he was struggling under that mountain of guilt he didn't deserve. And he'd been in a place to finally see Sam's world past his own pain. They weren't just Steve's friends any more. They were each other's.
So this time, he wasn't going to let that silence go. He hit the dial button and waited for Bucky to pick up.
A woman's voice answered. "The person at—." He hung up. Of course, a hundred-and-six-year-old man wouldn't know how to set up his own voicemail greeting on his damn flip phone.
He shook his head and called again. This time, he waited for the beep. "Bucky? You there? I need you to pick up, man." He waited. Then the computer voice asked if he was satisfied with his message. He hung up again.
Sam growled and went back into his Contacts.
"Hey, Sam, what's up?" Torres said in greeting. At least he was young enough to answer his phone when it rang.
"I need an address. I'm thinking the government had a vested interest in keeping tabs on where the ex-Winter Soldier is living."
"Doesn't seem fair to keep calling him the Winter Soldier, does it?"
"The Wakandans call the guy White Wolf, but I'm not sure that will stick."
"That's cool. That where he got that lit arm? Anyway, yes, I'll text you the addy."
"Yes and thank you, man."
Sam hung up the phone and wished that New York City was closer to Delecroix, Louisiana.
The flight got in to JFK at 6pm, and Sam tried to call Bucky again. Same damn default voicemail.
"I don't suppose you can pick me up at the airport?" Nothing.
He hung up, ordered an Uber, and waited on the curb, his overnight bag slung on his shoulder. The driver was talkative, telling him the history of each neighborhood they passed. "Ever been to Brooklyn before?"
"Nah, got a friend there."
He seemed satisfied, so Sam just listened to the driver's audio tour as he checked his phone again. Damn it, Bucky! What's wrong?
Finally, the driver stopped the car at the curb next to a tall, slightly run-down, brick building. Why had he thought Bucky would live in a sparkly, modern apartment block, anyway? He let himself out, gave the driver a tip and a 5-star review, then entered the building. He joined six other people in a noisy, somewhat shaky elevator. A few minutes later, he was standing on faded green carpeting in front of Bucky's door.
He knocked. He heard a whisper of movement on the other side of the door, and looked toward the peephole so Bucky could see his face.
"Go away, Sam." He didn't sound angry though. He sounded tired maybe, strung out.
"I flew all the way up here, man. You really gonna leave me standing out in the hall?"
"Didn't ask you to come. And I don't need your judgement right now."
Sam leaned closer to the door. "No judgement. You went quiet. I'm concerned."
He thought he heard Bucky sigh on the other side of the door. "If I open the door, there'll be judgment."
"I promise. Just, please, let me in." He definitely heard Bucky growl but it was somewhat drowned out by the sound of several locks being manipulated. Still, the door didn't open when it was quiet again.
Sam tried the knob. It turned so he pushed the door open. The first thing he noticed was the emptiness. It was a studio, that was obvious. But instead of being cramped and looking lived in, this one was downright roomy. Because there was little more than an armchair, a hall table, and a television on a TV stand. Still, he didn't see Bucky.
"You're judging." His voice came from low to the ground on the other side of the armchair.
Sam shut the door and took a moment to lock all three locks. He wanted Bucky to feel secure. "I'm not judging. I'm assessing. This isn't my first rodeo. Let me guess: the bathroom mirror is broken."
That got a growl which Sam took as confirmation. Understandable. Sam was secure enough in his manhood that he could admit—not to Bucky—that Bucky was an attractive man. Sarah could tell, he was sure of that, though it annoyed him greatly. But what did Bucky see when he looked in that mirror? PTSD often dealt with perception rather than reality.
Sam let gravity take his bag down softly to the floor. He took a few steps into the room. "You stopped answering my texts. I tried to call."
He took another step. "Because you forgot to charge it or because you crushed it?"
Another growl. Crushed. Sam thought maybe Bucky wasn't ready for a frontal assault, so he sat down in the chair and turned his eyes to the muted television. "Bucky? What happened two weeks ago?" Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Bucky drop his head to his elbows which were propped up on his knees. Sam put his gaze back on the TV and waited. There was a hockey game between the New Jersey Devils and the Buffalo Sabres. They were moving the puck around and skating so fast that Sam would have appreciated the commentary. But he wasn't here for the game.
Bucky blew out a shaky breath. "I remembered something." And there was that tone again. Quiet, vulnerable, raw.
"Okay." Sam leaned back and crossed one leg over his other knee. "I thought memories were good things. You want all your memories back, right?"
He didn't have to wait this time. "Not these."
Sam thought for a moment. Bucky had accepted the memories of the Winter Soldier's kills—and all the guilt those entailed#8212;but he didn't want these new memories? "I thought you were good with your memory, got it all back. You remember you and Steve as kids, the war, the missions. What's left?" He thought maybe he knew, but he hoped he could draw it out of Bucky.
"Doesn't work like that," Bucky sighed. "They come in pieces."
Well that was more than the three words he'd been averaging. Sam felt encouraged. "Like a puzzle?"
"Like a five-thousand piece puzzle with no picture and half the pieces are scattered over all seven continents." Sam was taken aback at the vividness of that metaphor. But Bucky wasn't done. "Sometimes I find one when something reminds me, like when the boys were playing with the shield. I remember my sisters. Sometimes they come when I sleep—or try to. Sometimes I'm just walking down the street and they take my breath away."
It had been several years, even including the five they were both gone, since Bucky had broken free from his handlers. And he was still piecing together his life. "This new memory you don't want, which way did it come?"
"I smashed my phone."
Sam nodded. Sudden onset traumatic memory. Now for the hard part. Sam slipped out of the chair and turned so he was sitting cross-legged in front of Bucky.
Bucky didn't lift his head. "I was fine in Wakanda, looking after goats, moving hay. Then Thanos and oh, by the way, aliens are a thing and there's even a talking raccoon."
Sam smiled. "Don't forget the teenaged tree."
Bucky lifted his head enough to look up at Sam. "Then dust, then back. More Thanos. Maybe I was just basking in the win."
Sam nodded. "It was a big win, worthy of basking." Sam pulled his legs up until he was somewhat mirroring Bucky's position.
Bucky sighed deeply, head lowered again. "I thought I'd be okay." There was a quiver to his voice then. Just like when he'd admitted to doubting Steve's assessment of him as a good person. "Steve said it would be okay."
Sam tapped him gently on one knee. "It's okay to not be okay. What did you remember?"
"From the train?"
Another sigh. "From the train on a mountain."
Ouch. That explained why everyone had thought he was dead.
Bucky's voice returned in a whisper. "And how—how I forgot my own name." And Sam heard the self-loathing and pain of that sentence.
Sam closed his eyes. No wonder Bucky didn't want those memories. This is what he'd needed to be working on in therapy. "Bucky, none of that is your fault."
"I was weak."
"You fell off a mountain," Sam reminded. "Of course you were weak. Or did you already have the serum?"
"Had something. Not like Steve."
Then a memory came back to Sam. After the Winter Soldier's assault on the bridge when they were taken by Hydra. There in the back of that truck, Steve was trying to figure out how his dead friend had reappeared seventy years later. Bucky's whole unit had been captured, and Zola had experimented on him. That's how he survived.
He opened his eyes again. He kept his voice gentle and just quiet enough to only cover the space between the two of them. "I'm very sorry that happened to you. You lost your arm in the fall?"
Impossibly, Bucky curled up even tighter and put his hands on his head. "Don't." Even quieter, "It hurts."
"Keeping it in only hurts worse. You have to go through it. It sucks, and there's no quick fix but holding it in, letting it fester while you barricade yourself in your empty apartment, this makes it worse. When was the last time you had something to eat? Steve told me he had to eat four times as much to keep up with his metabolism. Did you sleep at all this week?"
"It's not fair."
Sam shook his head. "Ain't nothin' fair about it. You have to suffer those hurts again and again. But it does get better. Eventually, you'll be able to put them in the past where they can't hurt you anymore. You've already experienced that. You made your amends. I've never seen you smile so much or be so relaxed. You had three kids hanging on your arm." He chuckled at the memory.
"I felt human there."
Human, not normal. Sam sighed. He hurt listening to Bucky's pain. Most of the time Bucky hid it well. But that's where the staring came from. "Bucky, you were always human. A monster wouldn't feel anything like this."
Bucky lifted his head and there were real tears glistening in his eyes. "It was easier." His beard was coming in.
"Easier," Sam agreed. "But not better. Every minute of it when it was easier is harder now."
Bucky closed his eyes and dropped his head again.
Sam tapped his knee again, letting his fingertips linger just a bit longer. "This time you're not alone."
Bucky sighed but said no more.
Sam's legs were getting numb. Bucky's had to have gotten there even sooner. Sam unfolded his legs and stood, letting the stiffness ease before he took a step back. "How about I order us some pizza and you go take a shower? Self care helps."
Bucky moved like he was about to get up, but he slipped his Vibranium hand under the edge of the chair and pulled out a composition notebook. He left it there on the floor then stood and headed toward the bathroom.
Sam realized that was an invitation, so he lifted the notebook even as he opened the Pizza Hut app on his phone. He called out so Bucky could hear. "You like ham and pineapple?"
Sam ordered two pepperoni mediums and one Hawaiian with two two-liters of Mug Root Beer. Bucky didn't need caffeine. He needed sleep. Then he settled himself in the armchair and opened the notebook. Bucky had neat handwriting. He wrote easily readable capital letters. No cursive. And Sam noted, he wrote in the third person, using 'he' instead of 'I'. He'd seen that before. It was an attempt to distance oneself from the painful experience being recorded.
And what he read were just what Bucky had said. Pieces of memories, horrible and devastating. Sam had to download a Russian keyboard and Google Translate some of the sentences at the end. By the time he was finished, he hated Hydra even more than he had before. And he hurt for Bucky, for the loneliness, the misplaced hope of rescue, the psychological and physical torture they'd employed against him. And it suddenly struck him that while he'd been contrasting Isaiah's story with Steve's, he had missed the parallels between Isaiah's treatment and Bucky's. Both imprisoned for decades, both forced or tricked into taking the serum, both experimented on. And both losing family before it was over. It had led Isaiah to bitterness and Bucky to brokenness. And neither was fair. Neither deserved.
There was a knock at the door. "Pizza!"
Bucky emerged, bare-chested and wet-headed from the bathroom. Sam held up a hand. "I got it." Bucky turned back but not before Sam caught sight of the ugly scars that outlined the artificial shoulder on his left side. Fuck Hydra! he thought. Then he returned the notebook to the floor. He unlocked all three locks, tipped the pizza guy, and brought the food in. There was a tiny kitchenette at one end of the apartment.
Bucky returned, dressed in a T-shirt and sweatpants.
"A couple of bar stools wouldn't hurt," Sam offered.
Bucky just shrugged and opened a box. By his questioning expression, he got the Hawaiian. Sam smiled. "Don't knock it 'til you've tried it."
Bucky eyed him as if to say, "Fruit on pizza, really?" but he pulled out a piece. And then he folded it like a crazy New Yorker. He was apparently quite hungry because he downed that piece in under twenty seconds.
Sam looked for cups but only found one clean mug. So he left it and just slid one of the two-liters over to Bucky's side of the counter. He took the other.
Bucky opened another box and grabbed a piece of pepperoni. "Well?"
"You write well," Sam offered. "Could be a book in there someday, when it's a little easier." Then he got serious. "Bucky, you weren't weak. They set you up to fail. Left you no options. It would have worked the same way on anyone. Besides, you are one of the strongest people I know, and I don't mean the serum. You took all that happened to you and came out a hero. Eventually.
"Set an appointment with Dr. Raynor and show her that notebook. Or come back to Delacroix with me, and I'll hook you up with a virtual visit."
"You are so old," Sam chuckled. "Computer to computer, over the internet."
"I shouldn't be around your family like this."
Sam shook his head. "They have their own traumas. Sarah's husband died on the way home one night. She called his phone when he didn't show up. A cop answered and told her, 'He's dead.' Just like that. And her with two young kids. Then her brother dusted with half the universe for five years. They know sad. They know hard days. It'll be okay."
"I'll think about it."
By the time they finished their talk, Sam had downed three pieces and Bucky had put away three-quarters of one pepperoni and a third of the Hawaiian. Just like Steve would have. They consolidated the leftovers and stuffed them into the tiny fridge under the counter.
"I don't have a couch."
"I noticed," Sam nodded. "I've done the floor thing before. I can do it again."
Sam settled into a semi-comfortable position on the floor, using some of his clothes for a pillow and started to drift off. But he wasn't so far gone that he missed the metalic tap on his elbow and the whispered, "I had more notebooks."
Sam blinked himself more awake. "What happened to them?"
"I was arrested in Bucharest, then activated by Zemo. You tell me."
Crap. Bucky had had a backpack when they all were arrested. It would have been taken into Evidence. But he had Winter Soldiered his way out thanks to Zemo, without the backpack, and then Steve pulled him unconscious from the river. From there to the vice to the airport and Siberia and Wakanda. "They were your memories?"
"In case I forgot again."
Sam realized that it had been like for him in those first two years of his freedom. His memory an empty puzzle he didn't realize he'd had and only a few pieces to try and figure out what his life had been. Bucky had come a long, long way in those few years. "But you didn't."
"No," Bucky agreed. "Goodnight, Sam."
Author's Note: To read the story Sam read, read my story, "The Asset".
©2021 Gabrielle Lawson