They took a good man, ripped out everything that made him good, tore him down to the base and then ripped it out too, poured in ice and pain, sealed him back up, and called themselves gods for they had created something new.
They were not gods. They created nothing new.
They labeled their weapon 'Winter Soldier' and used it quite effectively. They trained other, less-effective, weapons, guided history as they chose, and remade the world.
The smart ones feared the Winter Soldier. The fools believed the Winter Soldier had no mind with which to turn. Knives and guns can be used by any hand, but the Winter Soldier was neither.
No, the Winter Soldier was something worse.
There was a good man, a good soldier, a good brother, a good son, a good friend. Everybody liked him. He was bright, brilliant, brave. Loyal, kind, sweet. He talked to people like they mattered, comforted scared soldiers, wove stories of starlight to give tired men back the strength to fight.
History remembers Bucky Barnes as the only Howling Commando to give his life, as Steve Rogers’ brother. Hundreds of men remember him as a steady voice and strong hands.
Steve Rogers remembers Bucky Barnes as the other half of his soul, as the only reason he survived to adulthood, as the only reason he ever became Captain America.
They took a good man and tore out everything that made him good – or so they thought. But it was never gone. It was only buried.
What is buried can be found.
What is buried is angry.
They called themselves gods for they created something new. They reformed a man into a weapon and they used it to shape the course of the world.
They called it the asset.
Zola asked the asset, “What is your name?”
The asset answered, “Winter Soldier.”
The asset lied.
Guns and knives and crowbars and bombs feel nothing. Weapons do not care whose hand holds them.
Bucky Barnes died. Winter Soldier blinked open its eyes and obeyed.
They celebrated. They tried to make more.
The Red Room came the closest, but those weapons were put to a different use.
There is only one Winter Soldier. And as the years pass, it grows steadily less effective and requires ever more maintenance.
Some of them never feared the Winter Soldier. Oh, they understood the danger in its body, the threat it could be – but they knew it would never turn on them. Weapons cannot betray. The Winter Soldier was programmed very well.
When he was a boy, Arnim Zola read Frankenstein.
When he was a boy, so did Bucky Barnes.
Steve, Natasha knows, thinks that it’s a miracle Bucky Barnes somehow survived. It’s an answered prayer.
Natasha knows Bucky Barnes did not survive, and it’s not a miracle at all. She and Sam and Bruce and Tony all try to talk to him before he begins his quest, and he hears, but he doesn’t listen.
Even if some part of that man Steve knew is in there, it doesn’t mean Bucky Barnes is the same person, or ever could be again.
They called themselves gods. Time has already eradicated everyone who had a hand in the Winter Soldier’s origin, but their heirs and successors are still alive, and theirs, and what is buried crawls out of the grave, furious and starving and vengeful.
Weapons do not turn of their own volition. They can be grabbed by an enemy and used – but they have no minds, no wills.
It was no miracle that allowed Bucky Barnes to survive.
When they were boys and Steve was laid up in bed, shaking from a fever, Bucky read him the entirety of Frankenstein in one day. The whole time, Steve was sympathetic to the monster. Bucky went back and forth, but he knew he definitely didn’t like the doctor.
The smart ones feared the Winter Soldier. In the end, the fear is justified.
They took a good man and they buried him beneath the ice. The thing about ice, though, is that it melts. The thing about ice is that enough of it together can shape the world.
“… Bucky?” Steve asks, chest heaving, bruises forming and healing, his pulse loud in his ears.
It is the most important question he will ever ask.
Sometimes, a single crack is enough.
In a small town somewhere in the world, a man walks into a library. He finds the novel Frankenstein, goes to a corner, gets comfortable, and reads the whole thing.
He rises to his feet, re-shelves the novel, and departs as silently as he arrived.
If a ghost does not wish to be located, it will not be.
Monsters must be hunted down and destroyed.
Good men sometimes do horrible things, and horrible things sometimes happen to good men.
His friends think Steve Rogers is so optimistic it borders on delusional.
There is a memorial in both Brooklyn and Washington DC. Bucky Barnes never made it home, so there’s also an empty grave with a lovely headstone.
One year to the day after Project Insight, a copy of Frankenstein is left on the grave.
They called themselves gods and claimed the Winter Soldier was merely the first of the greatest army the world would ever know.
An old apartment building in Brooklyn was repurposed as an office building. There’s a Starbucks on the first floor, and Steve Rogers goes there most mornings.
This morning, he’s reading a beat-up copy of Frankenstein, sipping a peppermint hot cocoa, and trying not to hope too hard.
There are people always watching Steve Rogers, including Jarvis. He is to report to Sir anything of note.
This morning, a man sits down across from Steve Rogers. The man wears a blue hoodie, a blue ballcap, dark jeans, heavy boots, and gloves on both hands. His face is stubbled, his dark hair pulled back, and he is expressionless.
All of the watchers try to report to their superiors, but their technology fails.
Had Jarvis a mouth, he would smile as Steve Rogers closes his book, offers the beverage to the man across from him, and then they stand in concert and walk away.
It is an hour before any report is made and by then it is far too late.
“You look at me like I’m a miracle,” he says.
Steve smiles. “That’s because you are.”
Gods do not bleed or die.
They took a good man and tried to break him apart so they could piece him back together how they liked. They unmade a man and remade a monster. They gave it a label, not a name.
But the monster asks, “Who the hell is Bucky?”
The monster says, “But I knew him.”
They took a good man and buried him beneath decades of ice and pain and fear.
In the end, more of them die than anyone else.
“What do you want to be called?” Steve asks. They’re driving somewhere; he doesn’t know, he just follows directions.
“I am not Bucky Barnes,” he says. He will not be Bucky Barnes.
“I know,” Steve says softly.
“I can be James,” he says.
They took a good man and tore him down, but they never killed him. They buried him but he clawed his way free.
“They’ll hunt us,” James says.
Steve looks at him and then up at the sky, dotted with stars. It’s a cool night. Dark out here, away from civilization.
Steve knows that the Winter Soldier wasn’t the only monster made for war. It’s time he stopped letting others control him. Time to show them just what he can do.
So he looks back at James, and he smiles, and he says, “Let them.”