Conversations in a Snowy Wood
a Captain America fanfic
Notes: Winter Soldier spoilers.
Bucky never quite lost consciousness. The elongated fall, the wind screaming in his ears, the brutal stop. He remembered it all. Now he lay on cold earth, every movement agony, and he wondered how long it would take for him to die.
He had thought the same thing before, strapped down on a metal table, helplessly watching the knives and needles descend. And then Steve had come for him, like a miracle. Steve would scale mountains to find him. But how in this vast wilderness could anyone hope to find one man?
Snowflakes drifted down on his body, and bare branches latticed the sky. He did not know how many hours passed, before he heard the crunch of boots on snow. He turned his head, looking sideways at the world. Through the trees, a figure in black advanced with deliberate steps, like Death come to claim him.
The man stopped where Bucky lay, looming like a shadow. He was armoured in leather, bristling with weapons: knives sheathed in his belt, pistols holstered by his side, rifle slung across his back. A mask and goggles guarded his face. He stared down at Bucky through dark lenses: reflecting everything, revealing nothing.
"What are you waiting for?" Bucky said, when the silence stretched. "Go ahead and finish it."
"That's not what I'm here for." A gravelly voice, with a harsh edge. No accent that Bucky could place.
"Then for god's sake, help me, before I freeze to death."
"That's not what I'm here for either." The man leaned against a tree, like they had met strolling in the park. "Besides, you won't die that easy. I know what you are. What Zola did."
Bucky stopped breathing.
The man watched his reaction. "Do you think anyone human could have survived that fall?"
He had never said a word. Not to Steve, not to anyone. No one knew. Unless-- "Are you Hydra?"
A long pause. "Not anymore."
Not the answer Bucky had dreaded. But bad enough. How did anyone walk away from Hydra? "Who the hell are you?"
The man barked a sharp laugh, as if he had said something amusing. "My codename is Winter Soldier. I used to be an assassin." He peeled back his left sleeve. His whole arm gleamed metal, a construct of precision engineering. When he clenched his fist, jointed plates rippled like muscle, like machinery. He looked exactly like what he claimed to be, and the only part Bucky might doubt was the past tense.
"If you're not going to kill me or save me, then why are you here?"
"To change history."
The Winter Soldier cocked his head, alert, and then he was gone, melding seamlessly into the shadows. Moments later, the heavy tread of boots announced company. Bucky's stomach sank when he saw their uniforms. Back to that lab, back on that table--
Shots rang out, and the men went down, still grasping for their weapons. The Winter Soldier stepped from the trees. He walked over to the fallen men. Shot each one again in the head. Bucky shuddered at the convulsing corpses, their blood seeping into the snow.
The Winter Soldier let the rifle fall, and he fell with it, slumping to his knees like a puppet with its strings cut. After long moments, he stared at his hands: one flesh, one steel. "I'm still here. Nothing's changed."
"What did you expect to change?" Bucky said, curious.
Bucky felt a stab of pity. He understood that obsession, that rage, that despair. "They're just grunts. Poor bastards following orders. You've got to take out the men at the top."
Slowly, the Winter Soldier got to his feet. "Cut off one head, two more rise in its place." He stared across at Bucky. "They'll try again. They won't ever stop. You're a valuable asset."
A chill went down his spine. He forced a casual smile. "So, what, are you going to go shoot every Hydra soldier you can find? That might take a while."
"No." The Winter Soldier drew his pistol. He aimed it at Bucky. "Just one."
His throat went dry. "You said you weren't here to kill me."
"They want to turn you into a weapon. The perfect soldier."
"Like you?" Bucky snapped.
The Winter Soldier lifted a hand to the mask. Bucky had a split second to imagine something monstrous, disfigured, inhuman. He stared back at his own face, and wondered if he had gone mad.
"What are you?" he croaked.
"Your future," said the man with his face. "Seventy years of being a slave to Hydra. Seventy years of blood and pain and death. This is what you get for surviving the fall." Cold killer eyes. "You have nightmares about Zola, don't you? You can't even imagine yet."
Bucky wanted to say, this is impossible, but he had already borne witness to impossible things: supersoldiers and alien technology and red skulls behind human faces. He wanted to say, I would never, but he already knew how he could be broken. Instead, what came out was, "Is Steve okay?"
The Winter Soldier stared at him, incredulous. "Is Steve okay?"
"Yeah," Bucky said, stubborn. "The train. The mission. The war." He could ask, did we win, but that wasn't what he most needed to know.
"He could be better. But he'll make it." Heat sparked in those cold eyes, for the first time. "Do you even know what Steve would do for you? What he would give up, to save your worthless hide?"
"It goes both ways," Bucky said. "Don't you remember? Steve was down. You picked up the shield and covered him. That's how you fell off the train. Steve was down. You had to do something." He looked into the muzzle of a gun, and kept his voice steady. "I'm not sorry. Someone has to look out for him. Whatever happens to me, I'd choose the same again."
He closed his eyes, waiting for the bullet.
Bucky opened his eyes. The Winter Soldier wrapped the metal arm around him, hoisting him to shaky feet. "Come on, you hopeless idiot. We're going to find Steve."
Bucky gazed up at the mountain peaks, white and shimmering. All he said was, "We've got a long way to go."
"Yeah, well," said the Winter Soldier. "Better get started then."
- fin -