The Fear Landscape Series: Bucky Barnes

19 Jun
The Fear Landscape Series: Bucky Barnes

You’d think that after a while the novelty that is pain would have worn off. Well, you’d be wrong. Every second of his handler’s procedures hurt just as much as they had the first day, despite the sensation being as familiar as the back of his one organic hand.
The Asset’s eyes burned as he locked them in position, open and unyielding while his handlers worked on his prosthetic arm at the shoulder. Every muscle screamed in unison telling him to fight back and hurt those who hurt him. But the Asset ignored the urges. He knew better than to fight back now.
As the machines and knives did their work, the Asset experienced a new sensation: the sensation of a memory. The Asset did not have memory.
And yet here was one. Just a quick moment, an instant. A needle being injected into his skin and a voice telling him to overcome his fears and make it through the simulated landscape. And then nothing. The Asset concentrated hard on that moment, willing the rest of that time to surface and the confusion to be made clear. All he knew for sure was that none of this was real. Overcome fear? The Asset wasn’t supposed to have any fears to overcome.
Faintly, the Asset caught a sound, a yell, a voice he recognized. Colors. Red, white, and blue. “Bucky!” the voice shouted. The Asset didn’t know what any of it meant. But he felt like… like that man was a friend. Which shouldn’t be. The Asset had no friend.
He couldn’t remember. Why couldn’t he remember? The pain of the procedure paled in comparison to this, starting to sweat, his mind frantically spinning. He had to remember. Had to remember. Had to. Bucky? Who was Bucky? Red, white, and blue? Why red, white, and blue?
Suddenly the Asset’s thoughts slowed to a crawl as he thought of one thought that slammed all other thoughts to a stop. What if Bucky… was his name? The Asset had never had a name. But Bucky was as close to one as he’d ever gotten.
The voice, Bucky screamed at himself. You know that voice. You know that man. Who is he? Why is he important? Why can’t you remember? What fears do you still need to overcome?
Bucky’s eyes moved for the first time, blinking quickly twice. The gesture was small enough that his handlers didn’t notice, but that motion meant a lot. It meant he’d lost control, at least a little bit. He’d never lost control.
Why was he losing control? Who was the man? What fears did he need to overcome? He had to know. It had to be in there somewhere. That’s how memory worked, right?
Bucky tensed suddenly. Memory. This sensation, the sensation of pain that wasn’t connected to any real pain, had started with the memory. Was that pain… fear?
That made sense. So he was afraid of something. He was afraid of losing the one memory he had.
Okay, so he’d identified his fear. How to overcome it?
Let it go, Bucky realized. He would have to let it go. He’d been through a lot of pain, but somehow none of it compared to the pain of letting go of his one and only memory. But, to overcome the fear, he did. Bucky envisioned the memory as a bullet. A bullet he loaded into a gun. And shot far into the distance. Gone.
Bucky experienced a moment of peace. He’d remembered his name. Good. Even if everything else came crumbling down, that was the one thing Bucky would always have. He’d have a name. Bucky. And in that knowledge Bucky relaxed.
A moment later everything came back. Everything. Apparently overcoming the fear of memory loss was rewardable by memory. Bucky was thrown back in the memory, living it again in full color, everything making sense.
Hydra had captured him again. He was being dragged along, made immobile by a drug, as his best friend Steve ran at full speed behind him, in his Captain America suit. Hydra had slammed him behind the giant, metal doors of their workshop right as Steve had shouted his name.
Once inside, his old handler tied him down to the table he lay on now. “You belong to us,” he hissed into Bucky’s ear. “And we are not finished with you yet.” Stinging in his neck told Bucky that he’d been injected with something. As he blacked out, his handler instructed, “You will wake in a simulated environment that will landscape your fears and force you to move past them. Overcome your fear. Become fearless. Do not disappoint.” And that was where the memory ended.
Bucky’s eyes, still open and devoid of emotion, didn’t move. His muscles, still tensed in every way possible and locked in one position, didn’t move. His mind, working at all the different things that could happen from this moment forward, surged at a tremendous pace. He’d conquered one fear. Which one was next? How many were there? What would happen when he passed?
His handler stepped forth again, a large syringe in hand and filled with a dark blue liquid. He walked nonchalantly up and placed the cold tip of the needle against Bucky’s neck.
No. No, not another one. Never, ever again. The last time he’d seen that liquid—well, suffice it to say that wasn’t a moment he wanted to relive. As the tip of the needle rested against his skin in preparation for the injection, Bucky recognized this for what it was. His second fear.
And he was going to get past it. Bucky’s mind went into overdrive and everything surrounding him disappeared except for the metal bindings around him, the metal needle on his neck, and the human eyes staring into him. Bucky ripped off the bindings on his arms in one great motion and immediately rolled off the table and under it, where he had more protection. His handler, not expecting a fight, hastily drew a small concealed pistol from his coat pocket and aimed it right where Bucky had wanted to attack next.
“Try it,” taunted his handler. This was meant to dissuade him, make him think his handler was winning. But cheap tricks didn’t work on Hydra’s secret asset. Bucky rolled to the other side of the table, picked it up by the legs, turned it into a shield, and slammed it against his handler. The gun went off and dented the table, but didn’t get through to Bucky.
His handler was down. Bucky took his time stepping onto the bottom of the table that now trapped his handler against the floor. He positioned his feet to be approximately where his handler’s head would be and pressed ever so slightly down. He heard a satisfying groan in response. Bucky smiled.
But then the smile faded. He was still here. He’d won the fight. Didn’t that mean he’d conquered his fear? If his fear was of needles, then didn’t defeating the needle mean he’d defeated his fear?
Wait. Bucky recalled the memory he’d just remembered. “Become fearless,” his real-life handler had said. Winning one fight against a needle only meant that he’d bought more time before facing the fear again. It didn’t mean the fear was conquered. Bucky allowed emotion to show on his face by slowly closing and opening his eyes. He’d got it wrong. He knew what he had to do.
Bucky stepped to the side of the table and pulled it away. He picked his handler off the floor, stood him up, brushed off his lab coat, and laid down on the floor beneath him.
His handler was confused by this gesture. “I designed a super soldier. One who would win every fight. Why is it that he now gives up after he has already won?” Bucky didn’t respond. He had slipped back into Asset mode, silently awaiting whatever torture came next. His handler shook his head and picked up the syringe again. “It is because my creation answers only to one. Me.” With that, in went the syringe. And away went the landscape.
Instead Bucky found himself at the top of a towering cliff, overlooking desolate, snowy peaks. Bucky knew this mountain. This was where he had died. Or, well, should have died, anyway. This was where Steve had watched him fall to his death, and where Hydra had picked him up out of the snow and forced him to live their nightmare.
Bucky looked down and shivered. Not the tingling shiver of being in the snow too long, but the deeper, more encompassing shiver of fright. His third fear was seemingly of heights, and honestly, it was worse than Bucky was afraid it’d be.
The bottom was a long way away.
But if this fear was anything like the others, there was only one thing to do. One thing he could do. Bucky stepped off the cliff.
And fell. Quite a way’s down. He thought he’d seen enough of the mountain to appreciate just how far it was to the bottom; he was wrong. Time moved much more slowly when one was falling to one’s doom. As Bucky hit the ground, he expected pain. It never came. He blacked out just before he made contact.
Only to wake in a modern, American bed with red sheets and a blue comforter. Even though Bucky realized that there shouldn’t be anything left to shock him after everything he’d been though, the total and complete morphing of his surroundings did in fact baffle him. He laid there limply for a few seconds before standing up and opening the door on the opposite side of the room.
On the other side of the door was Steve, wearing a white tee-shirt and jeans and looking pretty normal, considering all that super-soldier packed inside of him. “You’re awake!” he said happily, shutting off whatever program he’d been watching on the television and moving towards Bucky. As he got closer Bucky made one small step back before even thinking about it.
Steve’s eyebrows furrowed. “You alright?” Bucky nodded an affirmative. But when Steve gently moved his arm to connect with his, Bucky shied away and tensed his muscles again.
Inwardly he was furious at himself. He’s trying to be nice, shouted Bucky to his body, trying in vain to get it to relax. It’s not like he’s going to hurt you. He’s the only person out there who really wouldn’t try to hurt you! His body refused to listen, and the peice of him that wanted to touch back was beat back into submission.
His fourth fear. Touch. That made… That made sense. Bucky swallowed hard like he’d just tasted something sour. Touch wasn’t supposed to be a thing to be feared. It was supposed to be a positive.
“Are you ok, Bucky?” asked Steve again, more quietly this time. Bucky swallowed again, and, forcing his muscles to obey him, gingerly placed his organic hand on Steve’s forearm.
“Yeah,” he said confidently. “I am.” He smiled slightly, and Steve followed his lead.
But then something happened. Something snapped. Bucky’s body reverted to factory setting and drew back to punch Steve while he was off guard. The one sane bit of his mind ran frantically around, trying to find a way out of the cage his body had put him in and stop this. But his training had been too good.
It was a surprise attack. The punch connected to the middle of Steve’s chest, making even the mighty Captain America stumble back a few steps and gasp for air before turning to stare at Bucky again.
Even though he had no control over his own body, Bucky got a front row seat as he watched Steve’s face. The hurt, the pain, the betrayal evident there was almost too much for Bucky to watch. “Bucky?” Steve whispered again, questioningly, but already hurt. And not because of the punch.
The Asset stepped back again and silently kicked Bucky’s best and only friend in the shin. Inside Bucky screamed at himself, “Stop, stop, please just stop!” But the Asset wouldn’t listen.
“It’s a fear, it’s your fifth fear, it’s just one of those fears,” Bucky chanted. He defeated the other ones by ignoring the pain or the emotion. That wasn’t working here. How to get out? There wasn’t any way out! Bucky was near to panicking as the Asset used his knuckles to jab into Steve’s throat, momentarily choking him. Steve was fighting back, definitely, but the Asset was winning and Bucky could tell how much Steve was holding back.
The fight went on, the entire apartment being destroyed in the process. Bucky was reduced to pounding on the walls of his mind prison, trying in vain get out. He lost all sense of sanity and sunk into pure panic, not thinking of anything but how his one and only friend was going to die by his own hand, and even if Steve survived, would never want to have anything to do with him again.
Bucky opened his eyes in a small, cold, grey room, tied down to a table like he’d been before. Above him he could just start to make out a face as his vision cleared. “Bucky?” Steve asked.
Bucky lifted a hand to his forehead. “Steve? What… What happened? Am I out of the landscape? But I didn’t pass the fifth fear. I failed.”
“You were in some sort of a coma when I got here. I woke you up with a little help from Tony,” Steve explained, holding up his cell phone.
Bucky moved to the other side of the table and came within a few inches of Steve. Finally able of let the emotions run free, Bucky let the tears come and wrapped his arms around his friend. “Thank you,” he muttered. “Thank you.”
Steve returned the hug just as intensely. “You’re welcome, Bucky. You’re always welcome.”


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