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Fanfic / Out of the Dead Land

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A cold detached voice in his mind pointed out that the Captain too had no use for the Winter Soldier. The Captain wanted Bucky, who had fallen from a bridge more than seventy years ago and never been seen again. He closed out the thought because he could not endure it. He called up instead the world of the Howling Commandos and their war, the world of Steve's stories.

If only you could remember, said that same cold voice, but he could not. He knew he could not. He had tried.

Out of the Dead Land is a Captain America: The Winter Soldier Steve/Bucky fanfic by emilyenrose about people, machines, and a soldier who isn't certain if he's a person or machine or anything useful.

The fic starts, as many post-CA:TWS Steve/Bucky fics do, with the Winter Soldier steadily regaining his memories as Bucky Barnes and showing up on Steve Rogers's doorstep one day as the reliable, easygoing best friend that Steve has been desperately missing for the past seventy years.

Except that it's only an act. The Winter Soldier doesn't truly remember or think of himself as Bucky Barnes; he's merely using his espionage programming to memorize information from history books and train himself to make the same vocal and facial mannerisms as the Bucky from Steve's stories about their past. He's good enough at it to fool Steve. But not good enough to actually remember or be Bucky from mimicry alone.


Even as the Winter Soldier does his best to mimic a person, however, robot duplicates who are doing their best to mimic people for malevolent purposes begin emerging and causing trouble for the Avengers — and the Big Bad behind them happens to have a special interest in the Winter Soldier. Avenger action, deftly-explored identity crises, impersonations of more than one kind, falling in love, and the Soldier/Bucky being a better person than he thinks he is, all ensue.


This fanfic contains the following tropes:

  • All-Loving Hero: In Natasha's words, "when Steve loves, he loves hard." And he loves Bucky very, very hard indeed which, while demonstrably not the sole factor of Bucky gradually coming back to himself or enough on its own to jumpstart it, is a vital supporting beam of it.
  • Amnesiac Resonance: Bucky spends several scenes in the first chapter watching Steve's chest rise and fall as he sleeps. It only occurs to him much later on that it was most likely a subconscious echo of the time he used to constantly check Steve's breathing when he still suffered from asthma.
  • Beige Prose: The fic's prose is at its starkest and simplest when Bucky's mindset is deeply that of the Winter Soldier's.
  • Beneath the Mask: The "old Bucky Barnes" Bucky initially tries to be is a mask, but so is the "Empty Shell of the Winter Soldier" he thinks is his true persona.
  • Break His Heart to Save Him: Bucky, after coming to the conclusion that Steve is an idiot for keeping a brain-damaged Hydra assassin in his home even when he's not trying to act like the old Bucky anymore, decides that he should leave for Steve's own good. It backfires spectacularly. As in, "getting recaptured by Hydra and tortured by them anew" spectacularly.
  • Breather Episode: The middle section of Chapter 2 where Bucky recuperates in Stark Tower serves as one in between him being recaptured and nearly mind-wiped again by Hydra and Zola capturing Steve, Sam, and Natasha and attempting to hack into the Tower.
  • Computer Virus: Mnemosyne is a rare benevolent example, as she systematically wipes Zola from existence entirely in the finale.
  • Cooldown Hug: Steve gives a panicking Bucky one, which is lampshaded by Tony:
    Tony: That's it? Give him a hug and you're all good? Wait, does this mean there was a hug test available all along, because if so, I can't believe there was a hug test available and instead we all got stabbed.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Fury gets a couple of wonderfully deadpan quips. So does Bucky eventually, as one of the major signs of his true personality reemerging.
  • Decon-Recon Switch: Bucky does not automatically/naturally regain his memories from living with Steve and listening to his stories like he does in many other fanfics...but that doesn't mean that he isn't Bucky in all the ways that truly matter or a worthy man in his own right.
  • Dramatic Necklace Removal: Bucky rips off Natasha's silver pendant during their fight after he vocally accepts Zola's offer to wipe away his memories after seeing 'Steve' die to distract her enough to knock her out. And also because he correctly deduced that her pendant was actually the key to uploading Tony's Mnemosyne virus into Zola's computers.
  • Dynamic Entry: Tony busts through a ceiling in his Iron Man suit during the Big Damn Heroes scene. Bucky also pulls off the crashing-dramatically-through-a-ceiling entry in a later scene in Tony's tower.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Bucky has to go through the anguish of not remembering anything about his past in spite of his best efforts to, being recaptured by Hydra and tortured by them anew, having to storm a Hydra base solo to save his friends, and being tricked into believing that Steve's dead and then having to fight a brainwashed Steve trying to kill him, but all of these experiences ultimately contribute to making him a stronger and more self-confident person by fic's end.
  • Easy Amnesia: Deconstructed and subverted. Bucky acts like it, but anyone not Steve can tell he's just defaulting to a less violent form of his behavior as the Winter Soldier, and only acting like he remembers being the Howling Commando because he thinks his new "commander", Steve, wants him to.
  • Empty Shell: Bucky trying to become more than this is the crux of this story.
  • Extreme Doormat: Bucky, at first. Natasha lays it out in stark terms:
    Natasha: The Winter Soldier does what his handlers tell him to do, and we took down Pierce and left him flapping loose. He's playing Bucky Barnes because he's imprinted on you like a baby duckling. He'll do anything you want. If you want him to watch baseball and eat pizza he'll do that, and if you told him to go and shoot the President he'd do that.
    Steve: You think he'll be volatile. Unpredictable.
    Natasha: No, he's entirely predictable. If you point a loaded gun at someone and pull the trigger, you know exactly what's going to happen next. You're holding the gun, Steve.
    • Deconstructed. Bucky acts like this because everything else was Mind Raped out by Zola, and he doesn't know how else to behave. It's repeatedly noted he finds actual free will confusing and marvels at other people's ability to retain memories.
  • Face Realization: Bucky spends most of the fic convinced that he's not a good person because of what he did under Hydra's brainwashing and says simply, "I'm still the Winter Soldier" when Steve insists that he already is someone good. It's only after he defeats Zola and his robot army in spite of believing Steve — his presumed Living Emotional Crutch — to be dead that he admits to himself that he was never truly the Winter Soldier after he saved Steve from the Potomac.
  • Fake Defector: Bucky appears to cross the Despair Event Horizon and give himself up to Hydra after seeing them kill Steve, even going so far as to beat up Natasha and Sam when they try to stop him, but then he downloads Mnemosyne into Hydra's computers to wipe out Zola for good. It's left up to interpretation, however, if he really did plan on taking down Zola from the get-go or was genuinely intending to let them wipe his memories again and had a last-minute change of heart.
  • Fake Kill Scare: Zola orders a robotic duplicate of Steve that's capable of authentic-looking bleeding to be shot dead in front of Bucky's eyes in an attempt to break Bucky's spirit enough to persuade him to submit to Hydra's brainwashing again.
  • Fever Dream Episode: Bucky's hallucinations while being tortured read like this, with some extremely fragmented memories making their way through too.
  • First-Name Basis: Bucky starts out referring to himself and the other characters by their first names in his internal narrative only when he's trying to be the old Bucky, and referring to them by their codenames instead (e.g. the Captain, the Widow, etc.) when he's thinking more like the Winter Soldier instead. He gradually shifts to referring to them (and himself) by their first names exclusively as part of his Character Development.
  • Foil: Tony Stark to Arnim Zola. One creates machines and personifies them until they are more or less actual people, with individual personalities. The other wants to "upgrade" or replace people until they're nothing more than machines.
  • Good Thing You Can Heal: This is Bucky's reasoning behind urging Steve to leave him to recuperate with broken ribs and a leg snapped hard enough to expose bone so that he can save Sam as quickly as possible. He's even able to recite the exact number of hours it will take for each of his injuries to heal, which unnerves Steve.
  • Heroic Self-Deprecation: Bucky's dominant emotion seems to be self-loathing for everything he did as the Winter Soldier.
  • He Is Not My Boyfriend: Averted; Tony very pointedly refers to Bucky as Steve's "boyfriend" at one point (most likely in a deliberate attempt to provoke this kind of reaction) but while Steve does tense up at this, neither he nor Bucky say anything.
  • Impersonating the Evil Twin: Natasha fools a literal computer program into thinking she's a robot duplicate of herself long enough to save Bucky.
  • Insecure Love Interest: Bucky, believing himself to be only a broken facsimile of the man Steve once knew for the majority of the fic, is genuinely surprised when Steve's response to being kissed by him isn't a gentle rejection.
  • Ironic Echo: "Who the hell is Steve?" Also see the Swapped Roles entry below.
  • Killed Mid-Sentence: The Bucky robot duplicate and Zola himself are both destroyed in this manner.
  • Kiss of Distraction: Natasha gives Bucky one while secretly planting a bug on the doorframe behind him to prove to Steve that he's only parroting the stories he hears from other people about his past back to him.
  • Knife Nut: Bucky's go-to choice of weapon is the knife, and Natasha gives him one of hers as a gesture of understanding after seeing him go tense at not having a weapon at hand. A brainwashed Steve also wields one against Bucky, although Bucky notes that he doesn't know how to hold it properly and it was probably thoughtlessly given to him by someone else.
  • Literary Allusion Title: The main title and chapter titles come from T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land, and there are several further allusions to it sprinkled throughout the text.
  • Living Emotional Crutch: Steve to Bucky, in an unhealthy Extreme Doormat way at first and then in a more positive fashion later on.
  • Meaningful Echo: "It's okay. I know you." The first time Bucky says this to Steve, it's implied that he's actually saying it more to reassure himself than Steve. The second time he says it, it's clear that he truly and fully believes it this time.
    • Steve's "Only if you want to" reply after Bucky asks him if he can kiss him again is repeated verbatim by Bucky when Steve later asks him if he can do a little more than just kiss him.
  • Moment Killer: Tony and JARVIS both pick inopportune times to interrupt Bucky's conversations with Steve in chapter 2.
    Tony: Hey, Cap, we need your input on—oh, am I interrupting something? Did I interrupt?
  • Mythology Gag: A Played for Drama one; Bucky taking up Steve's shield and resolving to become someone worthy of carrying that shield after the latter's apparent death was intentionally written to evoke the comics storyline where Bucky becomes Captain America after Steve's death and potentially fool readers familiar with the Captain America comics into believing that the story might genuinely be heading down that path.
  • Not Quite Dead: Turns out Zola isn't quite as dead as the film made him out to be. Justified with the reasoning that he's a computer program that can easily be uploaded to/backed up in multiple sources.
  • Now or Never Kiss: Bucky kisses Steve for the first time just before he's about to be memory-wiped again by Hydra. Turns out it isn't the real Steve, however.
  • Oh, Crap!: Natasha's face very visibly goes white when she realizes before Bucky does that Zola is about to have Steve shot dead on camera for all of them to see.
  • Out-of-Character Alert: In spite of Zola's claim that Steve wouldn't be able to tell Bucky apart from his robot duplicate, Steve does in fact realize that he's been replaced by an impostor when "Bucky" goes back to telling him only what he wants to hear in spite of the real Bucky having dropped that act days ago.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Subverted. Hydra's members assume that Bucky is on one after he disables Zola and kills a number of them on his way back through the facility, but Bucky is actually feeling more numb than vengeful and doesn't bother chasing down and killing Hydra agents if they're not directly blocking his way to find Steve's body.
    If he caught up with the man again he would kill him. Otherwise he didn't care. He could not care. What use was vengeance? What comfort was there in killing? If painting the walls red with Hydra's blood could have given him Steve, he would have already done it. Bucky Barnes would have matched his grief with cold rage, and the Winter Soldier was a thing made for slaughter; but neither of them meant anything now.
  • Sadistic Choice: Bucky is forced at one point to choose between freeing Natasha or Sam. Oh, and he can't choose to free Steve because there are plans for him. Bucky, however, rightly senses that Zola has no intention of actually freeing any of his friends and takes the third option of freeing both Natasha and Sam himself.
  • Spot the Imposter: Bucky quickly learns that the best way to tell humans apart from their robot duplicates is to cut them and see if they bleed or not. Except for the robot duplicate that does bleed as part of Zola's Fake Kill Scare Despair Gambit.
  • Spotlight-Stealing Squad: In the original kink meme version of the fic, the author wound up writing a lot more scenes for Tony than she intended because of how enjoyable she found writing Tony's banter to be. This was rectified in the cleaned-up version for Archive of Our Own, although Tony is still an eminently memorable side character even then.
  • Stepford Smiler: Bucky, initially.
  • Swapped Roles: The climax of the fic has Bucky come to believe that Steve is dead, only to learn that he's alive but brainwashed by HYDRA into wanting to kill him and he's forced into a "I Know You Are in There Somewhere" Fight with him. Sound familiar?
  • That Man Is Dead: One of the fic's major conflicts stems from the Winter Soldier desperately wanting to be Bucky Barnes but believing at the same time that it's impossible for him to truly be Bucky.
  • Tin Man: When Bucky's attempts to be the carefree Bucky of old fall through, he withdraws completely into the Winter Soldier's unfeeling, emotionless Empty Shell. Except that he clearly keeps on feeling emotions in spite of his best efforts not to, especially where Steve is concerned.
  • Tongue-Tied: Bucky's conditioning makes him unable to speak in-depth about Hydra's plans without experiencing intense pain.
  • Transhuman: The Winter Soldier, in the eyes of Zola, is an example of how humanity can become superior through machinery along with Zola himself. Bucky, of course, begs to differ.
  • True Love's Kiss: Bucky kisses a brainwashed Steve during their "I Know You Are in There Somewhere" Fight to try to bring him back to his senses. It works. (Although it did help that HYDRA only had a brief period of time to make the brainwashing stick this time.)
  • Undying Loyalty:
    • One of the main facts the Winter Soldier memorizes about James Buchanan Barnes early on is that he was "loyal until death" and "followed Captain America". Or more accurately, as he realizes later on, "still follows Steve Rogers".
    • Steve is also completely devoted to doing whatever he can to help Bucky, even after he learns that he's been lying to him about remembering their past.
  • Villain Ball: Turns out that leaving Captain America's shield in plain view where a super-soldier can easily grab it and use it against one's robot army under the assumption that said super-soldier will be too lost in despair to realize this is kind of a dumb move to make.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: There are definite shades of this in Bucky's thoughts about himself, although Tony's robot detector that identifies him as human goes a long way towards mollifying this.
  • You Were Trying Too Hard: It's only when Bucky stops trying to consciously act like what he thinks he "should" be as Bucky Barnes and/or the Winter Soldier that he gradually begins to truly think and behave like himself again.