Falcon and the Winter Soldier
The First Pieces
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 .
"I'm with you to the end of the line."
His first memory. He'd fought against it.
The target lifted the beam. He turned and used his titanium arm to pull himself out from under it. "You know me," the target said.
"No, I don't!" He hit him. Both staggered apart. He didn't know him. He didn't know anyone. There was only the mission. Only the mission. There was no before the mission. And if he knew that man, it would mean he was missing something, that something had been taken from him.
The man could barely stand. "Bucky, you've known me your whole life."
He hit the man again. What whole life? There was only the mission. And that was given to him only a short time ago.
"Your name is James Buchanan Barnes."
"Shut up!" He was Soldat! The Asset! He didn't need a name. He didn't have a name. He wasn't like the other small men at base. They were people.
"I'm not going to fight you." The target dropped the shield and it fell away to the water below. "You're my friend."
Soldat tackled him. There was only the mission. "You're my mission!" There was a fear in him that survived the machine that left him blank and confused until the mission gave him clarity. He couldn't put a name to it. Only that he couldn't fail. He hit the man again and again. "You're. My. Mission!"
He lifted his fist to hit him again, but the target spoke. "Then finish it, because I'm with you to the end of the line."
The bloody face of his target became a smaller face, thinner, with sad eyes. He was dressed in a suit and tie. "I'm with you to the end of the line, pal." It was his own voice, his own hand on the other's shoulder.
The floor dropped and the vision fell away with the target. With Steve. Instinctively, he grabbed a beam with his left arm. He watched the body fall. Saw its face above him as he fell. Steve's face, crying, "Bucky! No!"
Steve's face. He knew him. There was before the mission. They took it from him. They had lied.
He let go, dove into the water. He found Steve. He grabbed him by a shoulder strap and used his legs to propel him back up. His right arm hurt when he used it to swim, but he swam anyway. They would fix it back at base.
No. They had lied. They took the before from him. His feet found the riverbed. He tucked his broken arm to his chest, dragged his target—Steve—to the shore. He dropped him and looked down, waiting for man's chest to move. It did.
Should he stay? He had questions? If there was before the mission, did that mean he was a person? He was a 'friend.' Steve had said so.
He couldn't stay. They would find him. Steve's people. And if he was there with Steve, they would try to kill him. And he would kill them because that was what he knew to do. It was all he knew to do. He walked away.
If he went back to base, they'd fix his arm. But they'd put him back in the machine. The machine hurt. He remembered that.
"But I knew him."
"Then wipe him and start over."
He knew him. Then he didn't. Then he did. Then wipe him and start over. The machine. It had hurt. It had made him forget.
No, he would not go back. That before memory was his. He'd been a person. Steve had said so. A friend. He had a name: James Buchanan Barnes.
His arm ached. It was broken. If he didn't go back to base, he had to fix it himself.
Beyond the trees at the bank, he found himself in an alley between two buildings. He saw flashing lights, red and blue. The building on his right was short, one storey. He jumped, caught the edge with his left arm, then pulled himself up and dropped himself over the short wall around the rooftop. He kept low so no one could see him from the road.
The lights moved away. He sat back against the low wall. He used his left arm to find the fracture in his right. He had no sensation in those fingers. He had to push hard and watch where the pressure changed. He gritted his teeth, held his breath to keep from screaming. He found it. He had to set it. Then it could heal.
He turned, putting his feet against the wall. He gripped the edge of it with the fingers of his right hand. He used his left hand to hold the right in place. Then he pushed forward with his feet, stretching the arm as the rest of him moved back. White hot pain flared in his arm as he waited for his bones slip into place. He couldn't hold back the scream this time.
He felt a pop and released his hand. The pain decreased but stayed with him. He laid back, panting. The sky above him was blue but darkening. There were a few clouds and he watched them move slowly from west to east as the sky turned a darker blue and glowed where the sun was setting. When had he ever just watched a cloud go by or watched a sun set? Had he?
His stomach growled. He needed food. But all his food was back at base. He would rather go hungry. He needed to keep moving.
He sat up, cradling his arm to his chest again. It was feeling better. Pain didn't last.
He saw his legs, his gleaming arm. It would be hard to walk away unmolested. He'd have to fight. He'd have to kill. He was good at fighting and killing. Was he good at anything before?
The answer wouldn't come to him. They'd taken too much. He had a name, a real name. Not a title. Not the name of a thing, not a soldier, not an asset. A person's name. James Buchanan Barnes. He didn't know how to be a person. He needed more input. If he couldn't find it in his mind, he'd have to find it somewhere else.
Steve could tell him more. But Steve wasn't in any condition to talk. The base would maybe know more. And he could get food there.
But if he went to base, they would punish him. He'd failed the mission. He remembered Steve. He looked again at his gleaming arm. He was strong. And pain didn't last long.
He stood and vaulted over the short wall, landing hard back in the alley. If they tried to hurt him, to wipe him, he would fight back. But he wouldn't kill. He'd make them talk. Make them tell him who he is. Or was.
He waited until it was truly dark before he approached the back door to the Ideal Federal Savings Bank. He flexed the fingers of his right hand. There was still an ache. He should probably fight with only his left for the time being. The door opened in front of him and a man exited. He was startled and stepped back when he saw him.
"Oh, Soldat. You have returned. Come inside before someone sees you."
He followed the man inside.
"We're evacuating. It's all gone to shit. We need to get you back to Siberia."
James Buchanan Barnes stopped. "Pierce."
The man stopped, looked back at him. "Pierce is dead. Hydra has been exposed. We're done. You failed."
"I did not fail."
The man lifted his arm to strike him, but James Buchanan Barnes was faster. His fingers grabbed the man's fist and squeezed. Hard. The man slapped him with his other hand. So James Buchanan Barnes threw the man hard against the wall.
"Return to the chair!" the man screamed, clawing at the metal fingers that still gripped his arm.
James Buchanan Barnes squeezed the man's wrist tighter. He leaned into the man's face. "Who am I?"
The man snarled. "Not a who. You're a what! Release me!"
Footsteps. Others had heard. On the right. Two men. Automatic rifles, tactical gear. He threw the man into them, knocking them down. He was on them before they could stand. James Buchanan Barnes took one man's rifle and bashed him in the face. He took his knife and stuck it in the thigh of the other, right where his femoral artery would be. He screamed. If he removed it to fight, he'd bleed out quickly. That would be on him. He punched him in the chest lightly and he lay still.
The first man whimpered and tried to crawl away. James Buchanan Barnes grabbed his ankle and pulled him back. He put one knee on the man's leg to hold him, then he put the rifle to the man's temple. "How many more in this building?"
"Just us three."
"You're lying." He stood, taking the man's ankle again. Then he dropped his right elbow on the man's knee, forcing it to bend the wrong way as the man screamed. He put the rifle on his back, picked up the other and continued toward the vault. He waited at the corner, counting. Nine men. Easy enough. But he could not kill. He needed answers.
It was harder not to kill and his right arm was aching again. He lined them up against the walls and bars. Twelve men. Six in white coats, four in tactical gear, two in suits. All were disarmed and disabled in some capacity. Three were conscious, but several others were starting to move.
The fight was over. James Buchanan Barnes was calm. He knelt beside one of the suits. "What do you know of me?"
The man's teeth were clenched in pain.
"You're the Asset, the Winter Soldier."
"I have a name."
"James Buchanan Barnes." It felt strange to say it out loud. A name with no life behind it. "What do you know of James Buchanan Barnes?"
"Nothing. You came from Sibera. Karpov gave you to Pierce."
James Buchanan Barnes thought for a moment. But Steve said he knew him all his life. And Steve was from here. "I think I'm from here. Steve is from here. I am his friend."
One of the others laughed. "A friend? You're a tool. A weapon. Weapons don't have friends."
James Buchanan Barnes moved to that man, grabbed his ear and pulled it toward the floor. "I remember before. I am not a weapon. Weapons don't have memories."
The white-coated man to his left squirmed away. He released the man's ear and put pressure on the other man's knee. "You took my memories from me."
"Anyone know the god-damned words?" One of the tactical gears was sitting up. "We can call him off."
"He'll kill use before we get them all out," one of the others. Femoral artery.
James Buchanan Barnes now had twelve phones, seven knives, four rifles, and four pistols. Even a couple grenades. Yes, he could kill them all very quickly. But he needed answers.
"What do the words do?" He remembered the words. "They always came after the machine."
"He's going to kill us anyway."
He stood. "I will not kill any of you if you answer my questions."
"They control you." That was a young man in a white coat. He was black, with short-cropped hair and a mustache. He had six broken ribs.
"First the machine." James Buchanan Barnes pointed to the chair with its screens and computers. "Then the words, then the mission, correct?"
"Yes," the man said, breathing hard. He wheezed with each breath. "They took you out of the freezer in Siberia. Brought you here. Might have wiped you there before as well."
He picked one phone up and checked the date. The year was 2014. He showed the man. "Before that?"
"I don't know, just rumors. You're before my time."
James Buchanan Barnes didn't understand. "Before your time?"
"You're old," he breathed. "But you were mostly in the freezer. Cryostasis. Only taken out for missions. But that's in Siberia, so you can't go back in now."
"How old am I?" James Buchanan Barnes sat down.
"I don't know. But if the target called you friend, you might be as old as him."
"How old is he?"
"Story is, he went into the ice in '45. Came out just before the Battle of New York."
"New York," he repeated. That meant something. He wasn't sure what. It felt just out of reach.
"He's Steve Rogers, Captain America. There's an exhibit at one of the museums. Maybe you can find out more there."
"What are you doing?" one of the others asked angrily.
"What does it matter?" another said. "Hydra's over. They took down Insight. Pierce is dead, our data splashed all over the internet. If he doesn't kill us, we're all going to jail."
"You can't go tonight," the young man told him. "Museums are closed until 10AM. And you can't go like that. You're too recognizable after your last couple missions."
"Which you failed!" one of the others screamed.
James Buchanan Barnes stood and walked to that man. He put one foot on the man's crotch then leaned in to go through his pockets. The man writhed, which made it a bit more difficult. He found a wallet, some green paper with numbers in the corners, some keys. The man started pulling things from his other pockets.
"Take 'em! Just get off!"
The other things had no tactical value. Except for a lighter and pack of cigarettes. Keys could mean a residence or a vehicle, or both. Wallet meant identification—including address of said residence—and cards. He'd seen people put them in machines and retrieve the green paper. Currency.
James Buchanan Barnes left that man and returned to the chair where the rest of his stash was waiting. He put the other eleven phones in a stack then stomped on them. They shattered into many pieces. He took one pistol and two more knives from the stash. Then he took one grenade and pulled the pin. He set a few cigarettes so they'd be sandwiched between the grenade's safety lever and one of the rifles. "If you remain in this room, you will very likely die," he told them. "Your choice." Then he lit the cigarettes and walked to the barred door.
He left the bank and used the alarm button on the keys to find the vehicle. Then he used the map on the phone he'd kept to find the residence from the address in the wallet. It wasn't far. He used another key to let himself in the residence. He shut and locked the door, then silently cleared every room.
The residence was smaller than Pierce's. He remembered Pierce in his kitchen, offering milk. Pierce was confusing. He had spoken to him like a person but also ordered him wiped. But they said Pierce was dead, so he didn't dwell on it. He thought maybe he'd like to have been the one to kill him, though.
There was a kitchen in this residence, too. A room with a toilet looked somewhat familiar but foreign at the same time. A large room held a screen and soft things like the chair in that he could sit on them.. There was one narrow thing and a longer thing. There were tables with small things on them. The last room had a bed. He knew it as a bed and wondered if he'd ever slept in one. He couldn't remember having slept. But if people slept, and he was a person, he must have.
His stomach growled and he realized he'd forgotten about food in the base. Milk was a food. It was in Pierce's kitchen in a tall metal box. He returned to the kitchen and found a smaller tall metal box. It was cool inside. There was milk but so many other things. He wasn't sure what was good to eat.
There was another door to this box. He opened it and found boxes with pictures of food. He lifted one. It was hard and cold. Too hard to eat. He read all the words on the front and turned it over to read the back. They were directions and there was a picture that looked like something on the counter. Microwave directions. He did what the directions said. He pushed the Start button and watched as the meal turned around. When it dinged, he opened the door to take the food out, but it was too hot for his right hand. He used his left and set the food on the counter.
It smelled good. The picture on the box showed a utensil. He reasoned the utensil helped to bring hot food to his mouth. He opened all the doors and drawers until he found a similar utensil.
There was a table with two chairs, so he used a foot to pull one chair out. He set the meal on the table then sat down, like a person, to eat this meal. He pulled the clear film off then used the utensil to pick up a small amount. He could feel its heat as it neared his face, so he blew on it. And wondered how he know to do that. How much of him was missing?
The package had called the meal Beef Stroganoff. He put the bit in his mouth. It was creamy with soft pasta and small chunks of meat and mushrooms. So many flavors. He closed his eyes to savor them. When he did, he saw another kitchen. A woman at the stove, three little girls laughing and talking about childish things. "James, can you get the bread ready?"
He gasped and opened his eyes. He was back in the residence with a cardboard box of Beef Stroganoff. He took another bite but the memory had faded. He finished that meal but was still hungry. He took out another package from the freezing place and put it in the microwave. Then he opened the big door to get milk. Pierce had used a smaller receptacle. He found those in the doors above the counter, poured milk into one, and drank it all down at once.
The microwave dinged. He ate that meal—Spaghetti with Meatballs—then tried a different liquid. This one came in a tall, fat bottle. It was translucent and brown. The label said Root Beer. When he poured it, lots of bubbles came to the top. He felt the bubbles on his tongue. It was very sweet.
There were other things he wanted to try now. A drawer in the cold box had small red things in a big bunch. He ate a handful. They were sweet and juicy. There was bread, but it was soft and rather bland. Why had the woman wanted it in his memory?
After he had eaten two more microwave meals and tried something called 'ice cream,' he looked through the rest of the residence, opening every drawer and door and box. He found books with words and a few with empty lines. He found a pen and thought he should maybe write his memories so he could read them again if he forgot. Then he wondered how he knew to write and if he could remember how.
He could read, so he started with letters like he saw on the packages. He wrote his name, spelling it as best he could. He wrote "Steve Rogers, Captain America" and the words Steve had told him. He wrote about the woman and the three little girls. He also wrote about the chair, the machine, the words, the mission. He wrote, "Siberia, freezer, Winter Soldier. Asset."
He used the phone to check the time. It was 5AM. He decided to try sleeping for a few hours and went to the room with the bed. He sat on the side then turned and laid back. It was strange. The bed grew softer underneath them. He felt like he was falling so he sat back up. He sat on the floor and leaned back against the bed. He closed his eyes and tried to sleep.
His head fell forward and he opened his eyes. Had he slept? He checked the phone. 8AM. There was light outside the windows. He needed to clean up and change. If the men were arrested last night, authorities might check this residence. He went to the room with the toilet, thinking he could get clean there. There was a small sink on the counter and a long one on the floor. A word floated up to his tongue. "Bathtub." Bath. He turned the handles and water came out. One made it hotter and one made it colder. But it was all draining out at the bottom. There was a lever beneath the tap. He tried it and the water stopped draining.
As he waited for it to fill, he looked in the mirror above the sink. He touched his face, felt the short, stiff hairs on his chin. His eyes were blue. His hair was long and dark. He looked like a person. Like a man.
He found rectangles of soft fabric and set them on the counter. He turned off the water when it was a few inches deep. Then he kicked off his boots and stripped off his tactical gear. It felt strange to be naked. He decided to clean himself quickly so he could be dressed again.
When he was clean, he used the rectangles to dry himself. He found a stick with teeth all along its length. He put it in his hair and pulled down but it got stuck. So he started low and worked his way up to the center of his head until the teeth slid through easily.
He carried his gear back to the bed. He found something to cover his legs in one drawer, and something to cover his torso in another. He found small clothes for his feet. He put his boots on then took stock. His titanium arm still showed, and he needed something to carry his things. The big doors had clothes hanging. He found something there to go over his torso that also covered his arms. He found a bag on the floor and a thing to cover his head on a hook. He put his weapons and tactical gear in the bag. He also put in the book and the pen and more clothes. Then he ate another handful of the small, sweet things and drank more milk.
He left the residence and drove toward the center of the city. He parked the vehicle on a curb then locked it. He was near the museums in front of a shop. Someone was sweeping outside the shop.
"Hello," he said, hoping he sounded like a person.
The sweeping stopped and an older woman turned around to him. "We're not open yet."
"I want to see Captain America in the museum," he told her.
She smiled. She was not scared of him. "Oh, that's in the Air and Space, over there." She pointed across a green space to one of the big buildings. Then she pulled out her phone. "They'll open in about fifteen minutes."
"You're welcome, honey."
He walked away and blew out a shaky breath. He'd done it. James Buchanan Barnes had passed as a person.
He took his time walking over there, but he kept the museum in his sight. By the time he'd reached it, many other people had gathered and started going in.
There was a lot in the museum. Airplanes hung from the ceilings. Some of them looked familiar, but not from his missions. These tickled his memory but wouldn't reveal themselves fully. Finally, he saw a sign with Steve's face on it. He went that way. He stayed to the back, letting other people go in front. He didn't want to draw attention.
He saw his face next to Steve's above a bunch of uniforms on fake bodies. But that face looked younger, had no hair on its chin. He kept walking until he heard his name. "...Bucky Barnes and Steve Rogers were inseparable on both schoolyard and battlefield. Barnes is the only Howling Commando to give his life in service of his country."
He saw his face again, imposed on a dark glass board. He read the words above it and to the side. There were numbers at the bottom: 1917-1944. He sat on a bench to write. He kept his left hand in his pocket and wrote on his lap. He wrote all the words, and the numbers, in his book so he wouldn't forget. Then he got up and walked away. He picked up a folded paper with Steve's picture on the way out.
He returned to the vehicle. He pulled his bag from it and threw the keys on the front seat. He hoped Steve had survived, and he wanted to go to him and ask about his life, how he had died, but hadn't. But he couldn't. He had done bad things here. He had to get away. Away from the authorities and away from anyone who was left in Hydra, anyone who might know the words. If he could manage to keep acting like a person, he could maybe find more memories. Find out who he was as James Buchanan Barnes.
©2021 Gabrielle Lawson