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Captain America fic: Half of the Time We’re Gone (But We Don’t Know Where) 1/2

June 10th, 2018 (08:05 pm)
busy

feeling: busy

Title: Half of the Time We’re Gone (But We Don’t Know Where) 1/2

A/N: I am completely unable to keep track of the date, and I have woefully neglected the birthday of my dear friend kristen_mara. Kristen, you are truly special, and I wish I could write you all the fic in the world, but you seem intent on doing that yourself :) Therefore, I hope this meager offering is at least a little something to make you smile. Even if I did probably miss your actual birthday. Thanks for another year of wonderful friendship!

A/N 2: Unbeta’ed. Sort of encompasses all of Steve’s story in the MCU with spoilers through Infinity War and future speculation. Should be canon compliant as far as I recall.

Disclaimer: I own nothing.

Summary: Steve and Bucky started in New York. Steve just wants them to end there, as well.



-o-

Steve was born in New York. As a child, he’d never imagined he’d go much further than the square mile he was allowed to roam in Brooklyn. Things changed, of course, as things are wont to do, and when war broke out overseas, Steve understood how wide and vast the world was for the first time.

He watched the newsreels before movies; he read the papers as he scrounged them from the streets. He flipped on the radio and listened to the news reports from action so far away from home that he could hardly imagine.

Over there, people were suffering, they were dying. They were fighting fights they couldn’t win.

Small and slight, Steve had been fighting losing battles all his life, hitting at bullies because it was the right thing to do, not because he ever thought he’d win.

Maybe that was why the world still seemed so small to Steve. For as wide and vast as it was, everyone was in need of a hero. New York could be Paris just as readily as it could be Berlin.

But Steve wasn’t in Paris or Berlin.

He was just a living boy in New York.

For all the good that did him.

Or the rest of the world.

-o-

Still, Steve dreamed. He dreamed of his draft notice, and he dreamed of the plane that would fly him over the sea. He dreamed of wearing his uniform and making a difference in the world. Him, the living boy from New York.

“I don’t know why you’re so keen to die,” Bucky observed to him as they walked home from school.

“We all have to do our part, though,” Steve argued.

“What’s one more soldier going to do that all the others haven’t?” Bucky retorted, kicking a stone and watching at it skidded off the sidewalk into a gutter.

“I know I’m little, but I can still fight. I’m alive, Buck,” Steve said, chest rising slightly in indignation.

Bucky sighed, shaking his head. “I’m not saying that because you’re small,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re huge, a...super soldier. One person can’t make a difference.”

“You’re wrong,” Steve said, shaking his head stolidly. “And I’ll prove you wrong.”

Bucky sighed again, adjusting his bag over his shoulder. “I hope not, Steve,” he said, turning off to head to his own home where his mom and sisters would be waiting. “I really hope not.”

-o-

Bucky could hope.

But Steve -- well, he believed.

He would work, he would practice, he would even lie.

Because he could take a lot of things in this life -- and God knew he had. He could take life without a father, his mother’s illness, his own physical limitations. He could take getting beat up and ridiculed and all the rest.

But he couldn’t take staying in New York.

Not when the world needed fighter.

-o-

It took lies and deception and copious illegal behavior to get him into the army. Part of him wondered sometimes if his methods somehow made the whole thing less honorable. But things didn’t work like that, not in a world like the one they lived in. Sometimes, doing the right thing required you to do the wrong thing, too. Sometimes, sacrifices were necessary, even when those sacrifices were truth, honesty and integrity.

The greater good prevailed, Steve had decided a long time ago, when his father left him, when his mother died, when his body was too weak to let him live a normal life.

Sometimes, the greater good was all there was.

That was what Steve would fight for. All the other boys, the ones who were stronger and faster and better, they would pale in comparison to him, because they knew how to survive. Steve, on the other hand, knew how to protect the cause.

Bucky had believed that going to war was a surefire way to die.

Steve knew it was his only way to live.

-o-

Before piling up his meager possessions, he scrawled a quick note to Bucky, who was already in training.

Took some work, but I’d told you I’d make it. I know you’ll worry that I’m not safe in New York anymore, but I feel better knowing I’ll be over there with you. See you soon.

Some might call it optimism, if they were being kind. Some might call it a sort of delusion.

Steve packed up his bag, took his enlistment papers in hand, and walked away from New York without looking back.

-o-

Getting into the army was hard enough for Steve, so maybe he’d been short-sighted in thinking that the rest would be doable. He’d never specifically thought it would be easy -- he was small, sickly and generally ill-prepared for physical activity -- but he’d never given much thought to just how exhausting it would be.

Every day, the gruel pushed him to his breaking point. He ran those laps, dogged steps behind everyone else, pace after pace until he arrived at the finish line. He consumed the food served at meals, barely tasting it, before he fell into his bed and slept like the dead to prepare him for another day of the same.

The other men, the more capable, stronger men, took this dire routine hard. It made them coarse and short-tempered, and they lashed out at each other and curled in protectively around themselves. Some of them were flippant or arrogant, but not a one wanted to be here.

Except Steve.

He was always the first one up, even if he would always be the last one in.

It had been the only way to survive back in New York.

In the army, he found that not that much had changed. Life was work, life was sacrifice, life was hard.

But Steve had purpose now.

And it made all the difference.

-o-

Dead tired though Steve may be, it felt like he’d come alive in the army. But the letters from Bucky were not so promising.

True, Bucky didn’t talk about his training. He didn’t talk about his rigors or trials or the challenges he’d faced. Steve suspected that Bucky was still trying to protect him, like he didn’t want Steve to know the truth. That was how Bucky operated, always had. Looking out for Bucky like the big brother he’d never had.

Still, when Bucky wrote about his deployment, Steve could hear the anxiety in his words. The fear bled onto the page, scrawled in ink with taut, harsh hand movements. He didn’t want to go.

That was hard for Steve to understand, when he’d spent so much time trying to get, dying to go, needing to go. And Bucky hated the very thought of it.

I wish we were back in New York, two dumb little boys. I miss it now, more than ever. Hopefully we’ll see it some day again.

Steve didn’t even know what to say to that. He didn’t know how to think about going back right now.

Not when he was so set on going forward.

-o-

Steve jumped on a grenade, expecting to die.

He stood up and was given the chance to live the life he was meant to live.

It was dangerous, uncertain and risky, but that had never stopped Steve before.

It wasn’t about to stop him now.

-o-

There were lots of tests, countless technical considerations. In all honesty, the medical jargon made him tune out most of the time. He didn’t much care about the process; he just cared about the results.

He went into the procedure with the promise to become a better soldier than the world had ever seen. He went in with the hope that he might actually be able to win the fights he picked.

Imagine his surprise, then, when it actually worked.

-o-

Not all stories had happy endings, though. Steve was the super soldier, yes. But the cause they wanted him to fight for wasn’t the one he’d envisioned.

“It’s a pity,” Peggy told him, her smile small and taut when she was re-deployed overseas. They’d worked together all these months, side by side. But the project was gone; the leadership in shambles. She was needed elsewhere, and so was he. “We could use someone like you on the front lines.”

Steve swallowed hard, trying to convince himself of the same things he’d been promised just hours before. “The fight is everywhere, not just overseas,” he said, but the words were thick and heavy on his tongue, and when he tried to smile it felt like a grimace. “But hey, at least I’m finally getting to leave New York.”

Her smile was weaker than before, even as she tried to put up a good show on his behalf. “I can’t help thinking that this whole thing was meant to turn out differently.”

At that, Steve managed a short, bitter laugh. “Me, too,” he admitted. “But I’m pretty used to not getting what I want.”

She gave him a nod, and she seemed to be rallying herself to some inevitable conclusion. “Sometimes we want all the wrong things, I find,” she said. “I hope we meet again, Steve.”

“You, too, Peggy,” he said, and he watched as she turned to leave, climbing into a taxi for the airport.

It was time to do his duty.

-o-

It’s real important stuff, Buck, he explained in a letter while on the road. Support for the war continues to slip as time goes by, and they need someone to keep reminding the world why it’s important. I know it’s hard to believe, but I do look the part now.

He paused, glancing at the ridiculous blue and red suit in the corner of his room. They were in Akron tonight; they’d be in Springfield tomorrow. The show got bigger at every stop.

This isn’t the way I expected to see the world, but if this helps what you and the rest of the troops are doing, then it’s worth it, he concluded. And hey, it sure beats sitting around in New York!

It was a joke, a quip.

He almost meant it.

-o-

Captain America, they call him. The idealization of everything that made this country good. The embodiment of the innate righteousness in the world. The essence of what was worth fighting for.

It was actually a tall order, being Captain America. He had to be all things to all people; he had to be perfect -- strong but not overbearing. Tough but not merciless. True and never wavering.

Steve had always had the spirit, sure. Now he looked the part.

And people loved him. He was a natural, and he knew how to work the crowd. He knew when to smile, when to wink, when to kiss a few babies and offer up a salute. His timing was impeccable, and his performance was natural.

People loved him.

Steve was finally the American hero he’d dreamed of being.

-o-

Except that he wasn’t.

Captain America was just a costume and a tin shield. At the end of the show, when he put them away and retired to another generic motel room, he was still Steve Rogers, a boy from New York. City after city, people cheered while he punched Hitler in the nose.

City after city, he thought about Bucky on the front lines.

The facade, in the end, ran thin. Steve’s muscles, his stamina, his physical prowess: it felt as fake as the costume now. When he looked in the mirror, he suspected he was still that scrawny kid from Brooklyn.

Sometimes, he wished he was.

He knew who that kid was; he knew what he was doing. He knew what he wanted.

Now, so far from home, Steve found he missed New York and all the possibilities he’d once imagined for himself. He’d thought it’d be better, having them realized.

He sighed, trying to fall asleep in order to get on the road early tomorrow for a matinee show in Des Moines. For the first time, he wished he could just go back.

-o-

Bucky stopped writing, somewhere while advancing into Italy. He got a letter from Peggy though, heavily redacted and sparse in content.

We could use you here, she wrote at the end. All that work and energy and commitment; we could have used you here.

-o-

Could have, would have, should have.

By the time they reach Texas, Steve hated Captain America a little bit. He might have gone back, the little boy from New York who no one expected to win anything. He’d been small and weak but with every cause to fight for.

It would have been easier than this, strong and capable but no cause to fight for.

They called that irony.

Steve just called it misery.

-o-

When he got the notice, he was surprised. “Overseas?” he asked, he checked the location again. “The front lines?”

“You know it,” replied the messenger. “We leave tomorrow.”

Steve felt himself brighten for the first time since leaving New York.

It was about time.

-o-

As with most things in Steve’s life, it didn’t work out the way he expected. Dressed in his ridiculous costume, Steve took the stage for actual soldiers. As he started his skit, he could see how hollow it seemed. These weren’t boys who needed to be rallied to the cause. These were boys who just wanted to stay alive.

They all looked like Bucky.

Steve hadn’t belonged here when he was a skinny, dumb kid.

Super soldier he might have been.

He belonged here less now.

-o-

Angry, he took off the costume. He threw aside his shield. He was ready to go home, right now.

That was when he got the news.

Bucky was missing, presumed dead.

Steve, though, had never presumed anything.

Nothing but success.

It was why he’d picked so many fights.

And it was why he was going to pick this fight now.

-o-

The thing was that Bucky had never wanted to go. He was the one who had wanted to stay, safe and sound and happy in New York. He had been the one who had reluctantly been drafted while Steve tried enlisting under every fake name he could muster. Steve didn’t imagine the universe to be a fair sort of place, but that was why people like him were supposed to make it fair.

He’d fight for nameless, faceless people. He’d fight for theoretical people. He’d fight for causes that were abstract.

So of course he’d fight for Bucky.

Bucky, who wanted to go home.

Bucky, who Steve would make sure got home.

If it cost him everything -- and Steve wasn’t naive about this, he knew that he was taking a risk in more ways than one -- then it would still be worth it to bring Bucky back home. Because Steve knew that there were causes worth dying for. He’d picked fights with bullies for far, far less.

This wasn’t a cause, though.

This was Bucky.

Steve Rogers -- Captain America to the core -- knew the difference when it mattered.

It mattered now.

Sure, Steve wanted to do the right thing.

Problem was, he wanted to save Bucky more.

-o-

“I know it’s hard to understand,” Peggy tried to explain to him, furtively before he had the chance to confront his commanding officer. “But the army, they have to look at the big picture.”

“So they’re willing to just accept the loss?” Steve asked, caustic.

“It’s one soldier,” she said, almost in apology.

“There’s more than Bucky out there,” Steve replied indignantly.

“You’re not going to save them, though, are you?” she returned pointedly.

She was trying to make a point, but it wouldn’t stick. Not now. Defiantly, he shook his head. “Bucky’s one soldier in the army, but he’s more than that to me,” she said. “I’m not leaving him to die, not when he has a home and a life waiting for him back in New York.”

At this, her smile was rueful. “And to think how keen you were to leave?”


“This isn’t about me,” Steve told her.

“Of course it is,” she said.

“Are you going to stop me?” he asked her.

“The army doesn’t believe that one man will make much difference in this war,” she said.

“Yeah?” Steve asked.

Her smile widened, even more furtively than before. “I might have believed them, once,” she said, tipping her head to the side coyly. “But then I met you.”

Steve hesitated, but as her grin brightened her face, he found himself grinning back. He might love her, time would tell. He already knew he loved Bucky, though. And Steve was a man who had his priorities in order.

-o-

Stupid didn’t begin to describe it.

Fortunately, Steve was exceptionally good at doing stupid things.

Now, usually his stupid things didn’t work out.

But he was Captain America now.

This time, the stupid things would work out just fine.

And he refused to accept any other possibility as he set out on his rescue mission.

-o-

It was probably going to get him killed. If he wasn’t killed, it would get him court martialed. But then, his military career so far had been nothing but a publicity stunt. They weren’t likely to shame their poster boy. Not that it would matter if he were dead.

This was his train of thought as he slipped past enemy lines, delving deeper and deeper into unfamiliar terrain. Navigating around the Germans, Steve could only think he was a long way from New York.

Setting his sights on the most likely location for the Allied prisoners, he still had never felt closer to home.

-o-

Go figure, it worked.

Steve would like to say he was surprised; such a reaction would probably be appropriate.

But when he found Bucky, strapped to a table, weak and tortured but alive, he wasn’t surprised, however.

This was fate, after all.

Molded into the palm of Steve’s superpowered hands.

Then, Bucky opened his eyes, recognition dawning on his soiled features.

And Steve knew he could do anything.

-o-

It was no easy feat, getting out, and Steve wasn’t stupid enough to think that the risks weren’t over yet. Escaping the base was just the first step in a longer journey home through enemy territory. He suspected, as they walked, that the army had given him up for dead.

Steve almost took it as a challenge to prove them wrong.

The only thing that pulled him back a little is the pale hue of Bucky’s face and the hollowness in his eyes. This war had been a disappointment to Steve; it had been something else entirely for his best friend.

“I know it seems like it’s taking forever,” Steve said apologetically as they limped along through the dense thicket. The path Steve had chosen was circuitous, but Peggy had provided him with the best intelligence she could of the enemy’s latest positions. Cutting through the woods was the only way to give them a chance of clearing through all the way back to base. That made it safer, but hardly easier. It was the second day, and the weather had turned cold, and Bucky’s skin was like ice against his own. “But we are making progress.”

Bucky inhaled a little, but didn’t say anything, concentrating on placing one foot in front of the other. His adrenaline came and went in waves, making him a determined soldier one moment and a shell-shocked boy the next.

Steve had always fought against the dark things in life, but he didn’t know quite how to fight the dark things inside the head. Keeping his own inner demons at bay was easy enough when he kept himself preoccupied with cause after cause. Bucky’s though? Well, if he were honest, he’d never thought Bucky had any demons. Bucky had always been smart, strong, confident and likeable. The girls had all swooned over him, and Steve understood why.

That made it all the harder to see him like this. “Besides,” he cajoled with a smile, glancing around at the other bedraggled soldiers following him unquestioningly through the winding enemy territory. They trusted him; they trusted Captain America, and Steve wasn’t about to disappoint them when he’d finally taken on a real cause in this war. “Every step we take is one step closer to New York.”

Through his fringe of bangs, Bucky looked up at him curiously for a moment. “I’m not hurt that bad,” he said. “They’ll never send me back to New York for this.”

“I know,” Steve said. “But every day we fight is another day we’re closer to ending this war. Then, we can go back to New York, if you want. We can go anywhere in this world.”

To Steve, the endless possibilities were encouraging.

Bucky just dropped his head again as he staggered on. “There’s a lot of war left,” he said.

“All the more reason to remember home,” Steve prodded him, giving him a strong nudge with his shoulder. When Bucky looked up reluctantly, Steve beamed at him. “We just have to take one step at a time, and we’ll get there eventually. Back to Brooklyn.”

The corner of Bucky’s mouth turned up, ever so slightly. “Do you remember the bakery round the corner from school?”

Steve paused -- New York seemed like another lifetime, no matter what he said. But, of course he remembered. “They had the best scones.”

“And their ganache,” Bucky said, pressing his lips together as if he could taste it. “That perfect chocolate consistency.”

“Melted in your mouth,” Steve concluded for him. He was grinning again. “See, we’re that much closer already.”

Bucky sighed a little, walking a few paces more in silence. The sounds of the other soldiers, feet churning across the dead forest floor, filled the space between them. “Sometimes it feels like I’ll never get there.”

“Of course you will,” Steve told him, undeterred. “We both will.”

“You almost sound like you want that,” Bucky commented, a little wry. “All you wanted to do was leave when we were there.”

Steve shook his head. “It wasn’t that I wanted to leave New York.”

“I’m pretty sure I remember you committing felonies trying to get yourself out of there,” Bucky reminded him.

Steve blushed, ever so slightly, hoping the flush on his cheeks would just look like the cold. “I just wanted to help out, and the world needed me a whole lot more than New York.”

Bucky chuckled, cold and brittle. “I guess I can’t really complain about that now, all things considered. If you’d stayed home...”

Steve didn’t want him to finish the thought. He hadn’t let himself imagine it just yet. If he’d been in New York, then Bucky never would have had the chance to go back at all. Except in a coffin draped with the American flag.

“I told you I’d end up here,” Steve said instead. “And here we are, together. Can’t get much better than that, right?”

Bucky laughed again, more roundly this time. “I can think of a few things,” he admitted. “All of them back home.”

Steve rolled his eyes. “Well, we’ll get there, all right?” he said, marching them forward as the rest of the company followed. “Two boys in New York again.”

Bucky managed to keep his pace, quickening his steps ever so slightly. “I think I like the sound of that.”

-o-

That was the plan, anyway.

Life rarely worked out the way it was supposed to, though.

Sometimes it worked out better for Steve.

And sometimes it worked out worse.

-o-

The months Steve spent fighting with Bucky were the best ones of his life. Taking on the important missions, taking on the impossible missions, taking on every mission with Bucky at his side.

It was more than Steve had ever dared to hope.

At night, when they bunked together and the others were all asleep, Steve tried to remember home.

It was an impossible task, however.

Because this, right here with Bucky, felt more like home than the familiar streets of New York ever would.

-o-

That was when it happened.

When Steve felt his best, when Steve felt his most secure, when Steve felt completely happy.

That was when he started a fight that required a sacrifice. Now, Steve had made sacrifices before, and a lot of them. He’d always been willing to use himself as a shield to protect the rest of the world. He spent most of his time looking for grenades to fall on, because he didn’t mind the idea of dying if it meant someone else would live.

But when that sacrifice was someone else’s life.

When that sacrifice was Bucky…

Steve would never have been ready for that.

-o-

It started like any other mission, he and Bucky, up against the world.

But on the train, winding high in the mountains, something happened and Bucky was hanging by a thread. Steve, with all his strength, reached out, but this time, he wasn’t strong enough. He wasn’t fast his enough. His fingers closed around air, and Bucky slipped away, falling with a yell through the swirling snow into the abyss below.

Steve might have survived a fall like that, genetically enhanced as he was.

But Bucky…

Bucky was just a boy from New York.

And now Bucky was gone.

-o-

He looked, of course. He called in all his favors, he begged Peggy to cover for him. He lied and circumvented the rules and conveniently ignored direct orders to scour the valley where he’d last seen Bucky plunge out of sight. He searched for a whole week, ignoring reports of enemy activity in the area, and turning a blind eye to Hydra’s progress. The cause didn’t mean anything to him now, not when Bucky was…

Not if Bucky was…

Not without Bucky.

Closing his eyes against the cold, Steve thought of the empty streets back in New York, where he’d cried in the alleyways after taking a beating. Bucky had always been the one to collect him, to rally him, to take him home.

Steve would never be able to return the favor now.

-o-

Steve moved on because he had to. He embraced the cause because there was nothing left. He fought because that was what Steve did. He fought because Bucky died for this fight, and Steve wasn’t going to let that death be in vain.

It had to count for something.

That meant, Steve had to won.

All these years, he’d been fighting because it was the right thing to do.

This time, taking on Red Skull himself and all of Hydra, Steve fought to win.

-o-

Steve did.

He fought, and he won.

He beat Red Skull. He stopped Hydra. He stopped the bomb from reaching New York.

He made Bucky’s death have meaning.

The cost, however steep, would always be inconsequential.

Even if it was Steve’s life.

-o-

Over the line, Steve could hear Peggy crying. Hands on the controls, Steve swallowed hard over his own emotions. Because he’d promised Peggy a dance, and he’d wanted to keep that promise.

But he’d promised Bucky, too.

And he might have loved Peggy, but Bucky was his best friend, his brother, his everything.

The ocean rose up to meet him, New York just out of reach. He heard Peggy’s voice break off and then he closed his eyes.

I’m coming, Buck, he vowed, for what he hoped was the last time. I’m coming home.

-o-

When Steve woke up in New York, he thought it might be heaven.

But Bucky wasn’t there.

This wasn’t a New York he recognized.

-o-

When Steve heard the full story, he half wished he hadn’t. He wasn’t one to back down from a fight, but damn.

Bucky was long dead, and the rest of the Howling Commandos were gone, too. Peggy was still alive, suffering from Alzheimer’s in a nursing home. The war was over. The fights were over.

Yet, here Steve was, back in New York where it all began.

All these years, he’d never let himself ask why him?

Alone, living in a version of New York he didn’t recognize, he was asking it now.

-o-

There wasn’t nothing to be done for it except start again. He walked the same streets, found himself a place in Brooklyn not far from where he’d grown up. He looked up Bucky’s sisters, who both still lived in the area, and he met Bucky’s great nieces and nephews just because.

Of all the things that hit him the hardest, though, it was the fact that the bakery didn’t stand on the corner anymore. Steve could find a scone anywhere, sure.

But standing on that street corner, looking at a convenience store instead, it was the only time he let himself cry.

-o-

There was a call to battle, naturally.

If Steve had learned anything from his life, it was that there was always another battle to fight. A lot had changed in the world, but really, it hadn’t changed all that much in the important ways.

Tired and weary, Steve wasn’t one to say no.

Besides, he thought as he took the file Nick Fury handed him, what else did he actually have to lose?

-o-

Steve was an old man in this world, but apparently being a soldier was a little like riding a bike. Once you learned, you never forgot. It came back to him like reflex, honed and skilled and inevitable.

Of course, the team wasn’t the perfect fit like it was before. Nick Fury was no Colonel ???, and Maria Hill was good at what she did, but she wasn’t Peggy Carter. The Howling Commandos had followed his lead implicitly, trusting his every move. But trying to lead two spies -- one of them Russian -- a scientist who could turn into a monster and a super powered alien was a different story. There was no rhythm, no cohesion. They were all playing their own song, and Steve couldn’t make out the melody in the discordant strains.

And it sure didn’t help that Tony Stark was no Bucky Barnes. They were both reluctant soldiers, perhaps, but that was where the similarities ended. Tony was a smart-mouth, and he didn’t just ignore the orders when it counted; he ignored them whenever he pleased. He was crass and flippant and arrogant -- and more.

Still, Steve would never admit that Tony’s greatest sin would always be the one thing that actually wasn’t his fault. No one would ever be his right hand man like Bucky, no way, no how.

Steve would just have to make do.

He’d worked with less.

-o-

Besides, it wasn’t like they had a choice, seeing as Loki was trying to take over the world by bringing a powerful and terrifying army through a wormhole, right into the heart of New York. Sure, Loki had targeted Stark’s building, but it was Steve’s home turf, too. New York, its familiar streets, the corner where there wasn’t a bakery anymore -- that was all he had left of Bucky sometimes.

If that wasn’t a reason to fight, then Steve didn’t know what was.

-o-

This time, Steve got to see the end of the war. He fought hard, and he was wearied by it, but when the dust settled, he was on the winning side.

That was a good thing, the thing he needed. It was the grounded reality that reminded him that he might not be too old for this life after all.

And that disparate group of heroes, that mismatched troop he’d been asked to lead, they’d come together in the end. Banner had embraced his rage; Clint had found his control. Natasha had fought true, and Thor had found his place among mortals. Even Tony, for all his brashness, had made the sacrifice play when no one else could.

As he ate shawarma after, he had to think there was hope for them yet.

-o-

When he visited the street corner, where the bakery was supposed to be, he sat on the curb where he and Bucky had eaten scones and children and put down his shield for a moment.

Maybe there was hope for him, too.

-o-

After that, it was good, for a while. Steve had friends now, friends who made New York feel familiar again. It was nice when Tony called him up and dragged him out for dinner with him and Pepper. He didn’t mind visits from SHIELD operatives, or even Nick Fury, even though those were often furtive and involved missions.

Steve didn’t mind missions, either. He didn’t mind doing his duty, traveling the far reaches of the globe to get the jobs done that no one else could handle. He liked working with Natasha, who was intuitive and low maintenance, and she didn’t have many expectations that he couldn’t fulfill.

Steve had a life again, a place. He relearned the hustle of the city, and he explored the sites he used to know with fresh eyes. He liked having an order that the barista at the corner Starbucks knew by heart, and he liked knowing the ebb and flow of the city like he’d used to when he was young.

He did what he could to help rebuild, one brick at a time.

Most of the time, New York almost felt like home again.

(He’d almost caught Bucky, too, for whatever that was worth.)

But there was no word worse in the English language than almost.

-o-

When SHIELD asked him to relocate, to take a more active, full-time position in the Triskelion, Steve hesitated. He didn’t want to give up his Brooklyn flat, and he didn’t want to leave New York. But standing on the street corner, thinking about the bakery that used to sell scones half a century ago, he knew he already missed New York as much as he ever would.

Besides, SHIELD was Peggy’s legacy, and that was a purpose he wanted. He liked to think it was Bucky’s legacy, too, but if he were honest, he wasn’t sure that was the case. Bucky had fought hard and he’d fought well, but he’d never been one looking for a cause to die for. Peggy had had a singular passion for her duty. Bucky’s passions had been more diverse.

They’d included this street corner, and one square mile of Brooklyn.

Steve sighed, picking up his phone to call in his decision to Nick Fury.

“I’m in,” he said shortly, joining the flow of traffic as he crossed the street away from the street corner. “But you’ll need to help me find a place to live in DC.”

-o-

Steve fit right in at the Triskelion. Not that he worked there all the time; he found that active duty simply meant more missions and more time away from the small apartment he now called home. This was fine; he just had to ask the friendly nurse across the hall to pick up his mail from time to time.

There was always something to do, at least. Steve was never without a mission or a job or a task or a duty. He was considered a vital asset in briefings, and his opinion was often coveted in matters related to everything from Hydra to maneuvering on battlefields.

Really, to an outsider, it would seem like Steve was a perfect fit, that his life was coming together perfectly. Natasha kept telling him to ask out that nurse, to settle down, to make roots.

Be happy, in other words.

When she said it, it always seemed like a good idea. But when he was alone, when he was looking at the disparate pieces of his life, he was never quite sure what to do with them. It was like he was building the right puzzle with all the wrong pieces.

Either that, or he was building the wrong puzzle with the right pieces.

He wasn’t sure which.

And he wasn’t sure why.

No matter how many friends he made or coworkers he took to lunch; no matter how many people knew his name or knick knacks he bought for his apartment.

This wasn’t home.

The nagging emptiness, no matter how hard he tried to fill it, made him wonder why.

-o-

Then, on the streets, in the middle of chaos and destruction, Steve saw a dark figure cut across the gloom. Foreign and foreboding, everyone else cleared the area. Even Natasha flinched.

Steve, however, stood steady.

Because he knew that figure.

He knew its gait. He knew the cut of its features. He knew.

Because all the puzzles had been missing a singular, important piece.

Bucky.

-o-

Natasha called him the Winter Soldier.

She described him as a story, a myth, a legend. The way she talked about him, she made him sound like a nightmare.

Given Natasha’s past, at least what Steve had pieced together through her veiled and coy references, that was saying something.

An assassin. The best of the best, who disappeared and reappeared to handle only the very hardest jobs. A man with a trail of death and destruction in his wake. A man who didn’t leave victims or witnesses. For 70 years, he’d been a ghost of blood, haunting the darkest corners of the world of espionage.

That wasn’t a world Steve had ever known. His time with SHIELD had started to introduce him to it, but he was still a soldier when you got right down to it. His missions could be dangerous; some were even classified, but Steve wasn’t a hitman.

The people he killed, when he was forced to do so, he killed with his mask off now.

The Winter Soldier, however.

He killed in anonymity and disappeared before anyone could trace him.

Before, Steve might have written this off as superstition. An unlikely stretch of reality. He would have told Natasha that the Winter Soldier was probably a string of soldiers, each trained with the same methods and each charged with the same tasks. It had to be a program, a hidden regime, maybe funded by the remnants of the terror organizations Steve had been trying to destroy since World War 2.

That would have been his answer before he came face to face with the Winter Soldier himself.

And it wasn’t the man’s training. It wasn’t his cold and calculated approach. It wasn’t his heartless demeanor, his blank, dark eyes. It wasn’t his ease with a gun, his ease with a knife, his ease in hand-to-hand combat. It wasn’t that he could have killed Steve.

It was that the Winter Soldier had flinched.

Just for a moment.

When Steve said Bucky.

After that -- well, all bets were off now. The Winter Soldier was hunting them, probably.

And Steve could hardly wait to see him again.

-o-

He was, as it turned out the only one. Apparently, when you think your best friend is a killer assassin with a metal arm, people don’t actually care a lot about the sentiment. To be fair, they try, but it was Sam who finally asked him the inevitable.

Was Bucky the kind you save?

Or the kind you stop?

It was a fair question, and Steve knew it. But as he looked at Sam, as he looked across the water of the damn, he couldn’t find a way to answer it. He couldn’t even start to think about it. Because everyone else, they saw a trained killer, but Steve saw the living boy in Brooklyn who’d walked home from school with him. He saw the kid who had stood by him while he buried his mother. He saw the friend who had bought him a scone when he hadn’t had any money to buy himself one.

He saw the soldier he’d fought with, side by side, in Europe.

He saw the best friend he’d let slip through his fingers on a train in the mountains.

Sam wanted an answer, he wanted Steve to find the right answer. But Steve couldn’t give him that answer, even if part of him knew it was probably the right one. If it came between saving the world and saving Bucky, Steve knew which one duty called for.

But Steve knew something more powerful, more important.

He’d lost Bucky once. He didn’t know how; he didn’t know why; but Bucky was still alive.

Steve wasn’t going to lose him again.

-o-

After all these years, after following so many orders, after working within flawed systems, Steve was kind of done. Truthfully, he’d probably be done years ago, but he’d never quite let himself admit it. He’d never let himself crumble like that, because he wasn’t sure what would happen if he did. He wouldn’t sure he’d be able to hold himself together without those systems; he wasn’t sure if he’d take himself, everything that mattered to him, down with them.

That wasn’t a problem for him now, not anymore. He was more than the systems; he was so far beyond the call of duty. He didn’t need someone to tell him the right cause to fight for.

He knew the cause.

And it looked like a super assassin that scared everyone else on this planet.

He told Nick Fury to let it burn. He made sure that Natasha and Sam knew what to do and how to do it. They were all going to start over, this whole damn world, as far as Steve was concerned.


That was the only way this worked.

For the world.

For Steve.

For Bucky.

-o-

There was just one fight left.

At least, that was what he’d thought.

But when Steve was faced with his last duty, he faced his best friend again. For a moment, he knew he had a choice.

He could save the world.

He could save his best friend.

For Steve, it wasn’t a choice at all.

-o-

When he fell, when he lost the fight and fell, Steve felt some disappointment. Not about the mission, but about Bucky. About the fact that Bucky hadn’t acknowledged him. That hurt more than anything else, more than the cuts and bruises and battered bones.

It was his turn to fall, and he wondered if Bucky had felt like this. If he’d felt lost, alone and scared.

When he hit the water, Steve’s last thought was of New York and the promise he’d made but never kept.

Steve had lost a lot of fights in his life.

This was the one he would regret the most.

-o-

Steve should be dead.

Honestly, he should have been dead ten times over by now. He never should have survived basic training, must less his transformation into Captain America. He should have died during the raid where he first rescued Bucky, and he should have died in his confrontation with Red Skull. At the very least, he should have died in the plane crash when he’d said goodbye to Peggy and the very concept of living.

He should have died when aliens attacked New York.

And he sure as hell should have died when he plunged unconscious into a river.

When he woke up in a hospital, Sam was there. But he wasn’t the one who had pulled Steve from the water. Neither was Natasha or any of the rest of his friends and allies.

Beaten, broken and bed-ridden, Steve had a bit of a recovery in front of him.

Still, it was the best he’d felt in years.

He’d been living a surreal existence since they first woke him up from the ice. For the first time since then, he actually felt alive.

He actually felt hope.

As it turned out, Steve didn’t need a bigger cause to fight for.

He just needed Bucky.

-o-

That was the new mission. Natasha told him it was crazy, told him that the Winter Soldier would never be found. When Steve picked up a few leads, she told him not to get his hopes up.

“Too late,” he told her.

She sighed, very serious now. “You don’t know how this is going to end, Steve.”

He had to chuckle at that, short and rueful. “Neither do you.”


“If he is your friend, then he’s been badly compromised,” she warned. “I know what can be done to people; I know how hard it is to recover from.”

“But you’re here,” he argued.

“You’re talking about 70 years of training and manipulation,” she said. “And let’s not pretend like I’m some kind of saint.”

“You had a second chance, and you took it,” Steve said. “I owe him the same.”

Finally, she sighed. “You just need to be realistic.”

“I am,” Steve said. “And realistically, I’m not going to leave him alone.”

This time, it was her smile that was wry. “And if he doesn’t want to be found?”

At that, Steve hesitated. “We don’t always know what we want,” he concluded finally.

She tilted her head. “That’s good advice,” she said. “You should remember it.”

-o-

Nastasha gave what little intel should could muster up, but it was Sam who was with him every step of the way. Sam who gave up his time, his safety, possibly his freedom. Steve knew why he was taking the risk, but he couldn’t be sure about Sam.

“I’m not asking you to,” he reminded his friend.

Sam gave him a look. “Really?”

“Okay, I am,” Steve said. “But I’d understand if you said no. No hard feelings.”

Sam rolled his eyes. “I’d like to say it was entirely altruistic, but I’ll admit: it feels good to fly again.”

“There are other outlets for that,” Steve said. “I know you could use it in more conventional ways.”

“Conventional?” Sam asked. “SHIELD was the only chance we had at conventional. Whatever the hell they’re cooking up now, I’m not sure I want.”

“But this could lead to problems,” Steve said. “The places we’re going, the people we’re trusting--”

“Real salt of the earth types, I know,” Sam say with a grin.

“I’m serious,” Steve said.

“I know,” Sam said. “But you’ve been running laps around me since I met you. I like to think if I’m working with you instead of against you for once, I might have a chance to keep up.”

Steve gave him a withering look.

Sam conceded with a shrug. “This is also a lot more fun than therapy support groups.”

“Sam, I just want you to be sure--”

“Steve,” Sam said shortly, cutting him off. “Look, I don’t know if this dude is worth saving. On paper, man, he looks like a mess. Worse than that, he looks dangerous and probably like he should be in jail.”

Steve’s stomach churned.

“But I know what it is to fight side by side with someone,” Sam continued. “I know what it is to have someone you love more than life itself. And I know what it is to see them drop out of the sky while you do nothing but watch.”

Steve swallowed, harder than he’d intended.

“I couldn’t save my best friend,” Sam said, shrugging slightly. “So maybe I can help you save yours.”

-o-

They tracked Bucky across the world. Canada, South Africa, Japan and Bangladesh. They tracked him through China and England with a stint in Nigeria. There was even a sighting in Washington DC.

Steve kept track of the sightings, made a map of them for his reference. Bucky had crisscrossed the world more than once since they’d last met outside the Triskelion.

It couldn’t escape Steve’s notice, however, that Bucky had never returned to New York. California, once. Newfoundland, Canada, too. But nothing near Manhattan or a bakery in Brooklyn. It could have been coincidence, of course.

Too much had happened, though. Steve didn’t believe in coincidence anymore.

No, Bucky was avoiding New York.

Because he wasn’t ready to go home yet.

He would be, though.

Steve was going to make sure of that.

-o-

All along, Steve had admitted that he would trade the world for Bucky if he had to make the choice. When the choice had to be made, then, he wasn’t surprised by the fact that he made the choice.

He was just surprised how completely easy it was.

Because sure, he felt bad for Tony, but he’d put his shield through Tony’s heart.

If only to save his own.

-o-

Steve walked away.

For him, it wasn’t hard. He didn’t look back.

Bucky, however, seemed hesitant.

At first, Steve thought it was just his injuries, but after a quiet week of recovery, Steve couldn’t deny that something was definitely wrong.

“You sure you’re feeling okay?” he asked, nudging Bucky gently over a home-cooked meal Steve had prepared at their dingy safehouse in Romania.

Bucky gave him a look, dark and desolate through his fringe of hair.

Steve sighed. “You’re healing fine,” he pointed out.

“It’s not that,” Bucky told him, poking at his food reproachfully.

“I told you, we’ll get someone we trust for some psychological analysis--”

“It’s not that either,” Bucky told him, a bit more sharp now.

Steve put his fork down. “I promise you,” he said. “You’re going to be okay--”

At this, Bucky looked up sharpy. “This isn’t about me!”

Steve stared back at him, dumbfounded. This had always only been about Bucky. He wasn’t sure what else--


“It’s about you,” Bucky concluded the thought for him.

The realization flooded over him. “Me?” he asked dumbly.

Bucky sighed, dropping his fork with a clatter. “You quit.”

“I had to,” Steve said. “I mean, I wasn’t going to sign the accords anyway, and given how things went down with Tony--”

“And that doesn’t bother you?” Bucky asked, as if in disbelief.

Steve gave an incredulous shrug. “I can’t change it now.”

Bucky’s expression fell. “But you put down your shield. You’re not Captain America anymore. The world has always needed Captain America.”

“But you needed me more,” Steve argued.

“You’ve never cared about what I want before,” Bucky countered. “All our lives, all you’ve ever wanted was to be a soldier.”

Steve was shaking his head. “That’s not true.”

“You tried to apply to the army more times than I probably know about.”

“Because I wanted to be used where I was needed,” Steve said. “My life wasn’t worth more than anybody else’s. It wasn’t worth more than yours. I didn’t want to sit around while other people died.”

“But that’s exactly what you’ll be doing now,” Bucky insisted. “You sacrificed your purpose, your calling. You’re not a soldier; you’re not a hero.”

“It was never about being a soldier,” Steve said.

“It was always only about being a soldier,” Bucky shot back. “I was there, remember? I was the one who tried to talk you out of it, and I was the one who ended up following you into battle every time.”

Steve’s stomach churned at the uncomfortable memories. “Well, you always told me, even back when we were kids, that I was wrong,” he said. “That I didn’t know what I was talking about.”

“That never stopped you before,” Bucky said, somewhat sullen.

“Well,” Steve said, shrugging for the lack of something better to do. “Maybe I’ve finally learned my lesson. Maybe I was wrong, and I just never saw it until now.”

Bucky looked at him, studying him a long moment, and it’s like the years have bled away and they’re fighting the Nazis again. It was easier in some ways back then, when you knew who the enemy was. When you trusted in the cause as much as you trusted the man fighting next to you.

“I feel like we’ve had this conversation before,” Bucky admitted finally, and Steve wasn’t sure if Bucky could remember. He still didn’t know how much of Bucky’s memory was intact, if he remembered what happened during the war. He didn’t know if Bucky remember, consciously, that it was Steve who had failed him when it mattered most.

“Yeah,” Steve said, looking back down at his food forlornly. “Maybe this time it will stick.”

There was a silence, then the sound of a chair scraping against the floor. When he looked up, Bucky had pulled out the chair next to Steve, settling himself into it. This time, his eyes were up and bright, looking straight at Steve as he reached over and rested his hand on top of Steve’s. “Yeah,” he agreed, giving Steve’s fingers a squeeze. “Maybe this time it will.”

Continued in PART TWO

Comments

Posted by: digitalwave (digitalwave)
Posted at: June 11th, 2018 06:51 pm (UTC)

This was truly beautiful, thank you for sharing it with us. :)

1 Read Comments