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

June 10th, 2018 (08:06 pm)
weird

feeling: weird

Continued from PART ONE



-o-

Steve was more than happy to retire, but he couldn’t live the fantasy just. For as much as he was ready to put down the shield, the world wasn’t ready for him to go back to New York. In fact, if he tried, he was pretty sure he’d be arrested. With Bucky in the picture now, jail wasn’t something he was particularly keen on.

Which meant it was time to find some other place to call home.

Steve had burned most of his bridges, but he still had a few new friends to turn to.

Still, given that the Black Panther had showed up with every intent to kill Bucky, he was a little hesitant about making that call to ask for asylum from a near stranger.

Even when T’Challa agreed, sending him details on how to continue their travels safely and effectively to the Wakandan border, Steve had his doubts about whether or not he was making the right choice. This wasn’t just about him, after all.

He watched Bucky sleeping, curled up on the couch with a blanket pulled over him to hide his missing arm.

That was what made the risk scary.

It was always what made it necessary.

After all, Steve had risked more for less.

-o-

A few miles outside of Wakanda, Bucky looked at him. “Are you sure about this, Steve?”


Bucky’s bruises were fading; the cuts were becoming scars. His hair, though still long, was washed and pulled out of his face for once. Without the metal arm, his stature was somewhat less imposing, but it was the open expression on his face that made the real difference. Bucky didn’t look like the Winter Soldier anymore. Instead, he just looked like Steve’s best friend.

Steve smiled. “Yeah,” he said. “I’m sure.”

“I’m sure if you stop now, call Tony, you could still go home,” Bucky suggested, sounding vaguely interest.

“I’m not going home until you are,” Steve said.

“That could be awhile,” Bucky warned him.

“Yeah, well,” Steve said, easing back into his seat as the plane started to descend. He’d waited a long time to be with Bucky; New York could wait longer still. “I think it might be worth the wait.”

-o-

For Bucky, Steve was all smiles, but on the inside, he was completely on alert. It wasn’t that he didn’t trust T’Challa.

Well, yes it was. He didn’t trust T’Challa.

Now, Steve wasn’t going to be mean about it, but he was going to be wary. His own well being was not particularly important to him at this point -- as if it ever had been -- but Bucky’s was. So when T’Challa suggested that Bucky stopped by and chat with his younger sister Shuri, Steve hesitated.

“Come,” T’Challa told him, ushering him undaunted away while Bucky calmly allowed himself to be escorted into another room. “For you and I have much to discuss.”

“But maybe I should stay with Bucky--”

“He is safe here, as are you,” T’Challa assured him. “I know you have your own origins, but for now you and Sergeant Barnes are men without a country. I would love it if you could think of Wakanda as home until things are sorted out.”

Glancing over his shoulder, Steve couldn’t see Bucky any longer, and it was all his self control to keep pace with T’Challa as the Wakandan king took him deeper into the palace grounds. “I’m not so sure…”

T’Challa smiled kindly, moving them onward. “I have found that home is not so much a place,” he continued. “But the people you share it with. Do you agree with me, Captain?”

At that, Steve looked up, a bit taken aback. For all that T’Challa was a stranger, he knew Steve better than one might have expected. At least, he understood Steve’s current predicament better than Steve himself had probably allowed himself to grasp.

“So please, let us talk,” T’Challa said with a gesture forward. “About how we can make Wakanda a place of refuge for you and Sargeant Barnes.”

Steve didn’t have a lot of trust left, given the last few years.

But this was the best offered he’d received in decades.

-o-

Steve was a boy who had grown up poor and sick in Brooklyn.

Even as an Avenger, Steve had chosen to live modestly.

In Wakanda, however, it was pretty hard not to feel like royalty.

He was, after all, living in a palace.

There was plenty of good food and fun distractions. T’Challa’s technology was even more impressive than the things he’d been catching up on since waking up from the ice. There was so much to do, to learn, to discover, and Steve had time to read, draw and generally live his life.

In many ways, Wakanda was perfect.

But it wasn’t New York.

As a man on the run -- a literal fugitive -- Steve understood that more acutely than ever. He’d left New York willingly time and again, but it wasn’t until he couldn’t go back that he realized how much he missed it. It could be comfortable, safe and amazing, but it simply wasn’t home.

Still, when he was asked what his plans were, if he had someplace else he wanted to go, Steve couldn’t think of an answer.

No, all he could think about was Bucky.

Smiling, unkempt, rustic, alive, awake and free.

Wakanda would never be home.

Bucky always would be.

-o-

That was why Bucky’s announcement was so hard to take.

“I just think it’s the only way,” Bucky tried to explain, shaking his head in apology. “The safest way.”

It was all Steve could do not to show his outright incredulity. In all his life, he’d never been compelled by what was safe. Anyone else, he would have said so. But with Bucky, he didn’t have the heart. He could still remember what it was like before the war, when Bucky had dreaded his draft notice and Steve had applied at every office he could find. They’d been on different sides of it, then.

Steve couldn’t afford it now. Not when Steve’s cause had never been more clear.

“I get that, I do,” Steve said, knitting his brows together as he searched for the words. “But cryo? Haven’t we both spent enough time sleeping?”

“But it’s different this time,” Bucky said, and it was clear he’d thought about this. “Before, I’d gone under, and I’d never wanted to wake up. This time, I want to go under so I can wake up.”

“But you’re awake now, Buck,” Steve pointed out. “We both are.”

Bucky gave a short, tired laugh. “I’m only half awake. I feel like the other half of me is still asleep and I don’t know if it’ll get pulled out without my consent,” he said, and he shook his head again. “It’s too much of a risk. For the world.” He hesitated, eyes on Steve’s face. “For you.”

There it was, the truth of it all. Steve wasn’t the only one, then, who had found his calling. In so many ways, Bucky had found it first, back when they were kids in Brooklyn. He’d been looking out for Steve then.

He was looking out for Steve now.

A lot had changed, but not that.

Never that.

“I’m not some little kid, living in New York,” Steve reminded gently.

“And I’m not some innocence cause that’s worth your life,” Bucky said back, not missing a beat. “This is my choice, Steve. The first one I’ve really gotten to make for myself in a long, long time. It’s just like you, trying to join the army. You did what you had to do.”

“And you pointed out how stupid I was,” Steve said.

Bucky’s smile was small and sad. “I’ve already told you, I think you might have been right about some of that.”

Steve’s gut twisted, his chest clenching. They could have this argument again. They could have it a thousand times, a million times.

Except Bucky had made a choice.

Steve had been willing to die to give Bucky that choice.

He couldn’t bring himself to circumvent it now, not even if he wanted to.

No matter how much he wanted to.

Bucky reached out, putting his hand on Steve’s arm. “Do you understand?”

Steve wanted to say no. He wanted to say not in a million years. And he knew Bucky was doing this to set Steve free in a way, but it felt like the prison doors were closing in on him. He could say no, and he knew that. He knew he might even be able to talk Bucky out of it.

But this wasn’t about Steve.

He’d told Tony once, back when aliens invaded New York, that sometimes you just had to take the hit. Sometimes there wasn’t a way out. Steve didn’t have to throw himself on a grenade this time.

He wished he did; it would have hurt less.

Going home could wait; Bucky couldn’t.

Lifting a hand, he clasped his fingers over Bucky’s. “Yeah,” he said. “I understand.”

Steve had always been willing to the fall, and this was a bullet he’d step in front of gladly for Bucky’s sake.

Bucky exhaled, visibly relieved as he pulled his hand away. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I know it’s probably not what you expected.”

“You don’t have to be sorry,” Steve said resounding, remembering what it was like to perform as Captain America during his early promotional tours. If someone flashed him a fake Hitler, Steve could still land a punch with a smile. “The technology here is impressive, and they’re already working on ways to counteract your programming. You’ll be awake in no time -- and I’ll be right here, waiting for you.”

“You don’t have to wait,” Bucky told him. “I’m not asking you to wait.”

Steve scoffed lightly, thinking about the look on Tony’s face when Steve had driven his shield through the reactor on his chest. He could still hear the clang of metal as his shield hit the ground. “What else do you think I’m going to do?”

At this, Bucky’s lips curved up in a wry smile. “Your duty,” he said. “That’s all you’ve ever been able to do.”

“You’re my duty, you,” Steve said. “You’re why I’m here.”

“Steve, I know you mean that, but I also know you,” Bucky said. “You can’t sit still that long, not when there’s a whole world out there that needs your help.”

“Captain America is gone,” Steve reminded him.

“And you were a hero long before they wrapped you in red, white and blue and gave you a shield,” Bucky countered.

Steve shook his head, ever resolute. “I’ll be here,” he vowed. “You’ll see.”

“I won’t, because I’ll be asleep,” Bucky said, starting to grin. “But I have a feeling you will.”

Steve held his tongue, knowing it wouldn’t help Bucky to disagree.

-o-

He was there when Bucky went into cryo. He was there when Shuri explained the process and the progress they’d made already. Steve was there when T’Challa talked about the security measures, and Steve’s arrangement for official amnesty.

Steve was their, holding vigil, keeping watch, doing his duty.

But then he read that first headline -- trouble overseas.

Then, he talked to T’Challa, who fretted about international conflict.

Then, he got the call from Natasha, asking for his help.

“I didn’t know who else to call,” she admitted. “This is off the books, and I need help.”

Damn it, Steve thought.

Bucky was right.

-o-

When Steve left Wakanda, he gave Shuri explicit instructions about how to monitor Bucky’s well being. He requested daily updates, and when she suggested that weekly progress reports might be more useful, he told her that he didn’t expect to be gone that long.

She was a sweet kid; she didn’t argue.

At Bucky’s side, he studied his friend’s pale, lax features and tried to think of a way to apologize. He couldn’t come up with much, so he settled for a promise instead.

“You’ll be fine here, and I’m not going to be gone long,” he pledged, trying to smile. He had to look away, because it was almost too hard to take in the lifelessness of his best friend’s features. He swallowed hard, to finish his promise. Lifting his hand, he rested it on the glass of the chamber. “I’ll be home before you know it.”

-o-

Steve was home quickly.

This time.

The second mission took a little longer.

By the third mission, Natasha suggested they pull in more backup.

Within a month, Steve had assembled an active team and was maintaining various search parameters that operated outside of the scope of the Sokovia Accords. It was risky, naturally, to operate as a superhero team in these days of regulation, but the people they saved needed the help.

Steve’s primary duty was to Bucky.

But he wasn’t about to leave people to die.

It wasn’t in him. Never had been, not since he’d been a scrawny kid picking fights in the back alleys of New York City.

If anyone would understand, Steve knew it would be Bucky.

-o-

Days turned into weeks. Weeks turned into months. Steve was gone more often than he was back, but he always kept Wakanda in his sights. As long as Bucky was there, inside the cryo chamber, it would be his home.

-o-

Steve wasn’t an Avenger anymore, but he’d never let his relationships be defined by socially accepted norms.

Most of the time.

At any rate, his status as an outlaw and his refusal to sign the Accords would not keep him from saving two of his friends when they needed him most. When he got the call, he was in the air within minutes with Sam and Natasha in tow.

Together, they saved the day, and Steve would like to think that was that.

But he’d been fighting wars long enough.

He knew what one looked like when it started.

-o-

On the phone, he tried to explain the situation as best he understood it to T’Challa.

“Thanos was behind the attack in New York?” T’Challa clarified. “An attack that he lost, by the way.”

“He sent his minions that time,” Steve said sighing. “I know from experience that it’s not the same thing when the head honcho decides to get his hands dirty.”

“And Vision, he carries that which Thanos desires?” T’Challa asked.

“The Mind Stone,” Steve said. “I always knew it was powerful, but I always sort of thought it was safe as long as it was literally part of someone I trusted.”

“And this Vision,” T’Challa said. “He can be trusted, yes?”

“Trusted, yes,” Steve said. “But now he needs protection, too.”

“You ask for asylum for him,” T’Challa assumed.

Steve sighed, pressing a weary hand to his face. “It’s more than that, actually. Vision’s not technically a fugitive.”

“All the same,” T’Challa said. “He is a wanted man.”

“Extremely,” Steve said. “I don’t know where the other stones are or how hard it will be for Thanos to get them. But we know where this one is. We know Thanos is coming for it. This isn’t just about protecting Vision. It’s about protecting the world -- the galaxy.”

“A noble cause, to be sure,” T’Challa said. “And you would put this prize within the sanctuary of Wakanda?”

Steve lifted his head with a wince. “I know it’s a lot to ask,” he said. “I don’t know for sure what Thanos will do to get the stone, but I’ve seen how he operates. The risk to your people is significant. I wouldn’t blame you for turning us away.”

At this, T’Challa gives a soft chuckle over the line. “Wakanda is my home, this is true. But I belong to this world, this galaxy as well,” he said. “Wakanda can be the last line of defense, but I will choose for it to be the first instead. Sometimes, to protect your own home, you must defend the home of others as well. Bring your friend, Steve. Bring all of them. Come home.”

Steve let out a breath he hadn’t realized that he’d been holding. “I don’t know how I’ll ever repay you.”

“Fortunately, I am not keeping a tab,” T’Challa said. “And besides, if you do return home, I may have a surprise for you.”

Steve tilted his head, a little perplexed. “Surprise?” he asked, not sure if he wanted to know. Most of his life, surprises had been bad. Very, very bad.

“Yes,” he said. “I’ve been trying to tell you for weeks now, but you have been a hard man to get ahold of.”

Steve felt himself reddening. His goal of being home every week had gone by the wayside. He’d resolved to biweekly visits, but it’d been nearly a month since he’d last been to Wakanda. “Things have been busy.”

“Here as well,” T’Challa said. “Shuri has finished her work; the deprogramming was complicated, but she has never seen a challenge that she could not master.”

Steve blinked, not quite sure he understood what was being said. “Wait,” he started, getting numbly to his feet. “You mean…”

“Bucky is awake, and he is well,” T’Challa pronounced, and his joy was evident in his tone. “He is living a quiet life now, establishing his own routines, making a life for himself. A home.”

Steve’s mouth fell open. “And he’s okay?”

“He is more than okay,” T’Challa said. “He is eager to see you.”

Steve chuffed. “I wish the circumstances were better.”

“Don’t we all,” T’Challa agreed. “Though he is quite content herding goats, I sense a restlessness in him. A restlessness that can only be filled by true love.”

“I don’t want him near this,” Steve said quickly.

“Ah, but you are the one who brings the fight to his home,” T’Challa pointed out.

“But he doesn’t need to be a part of it,” Steve argued, his defenses suddenly flaring.

“Again, it is not your choice,” T’Challa said. “You can ask him yourself and let him decide. As soon as you are home again.”

Steve was moving toward the plane, mentally preparing his takeoff checklist. “Don’t worry,” he said, feeling his heart beat faster. Anxiety, anticipation -- Steve wasn’t sure which. He wasn’t sure of anything except that they needed to move -- and now. “We’re already on our way.”

-o-

Steve was short on details, but Natasha and Sam had been with him long enough to knew when Steve meant business. When Steve said he wanted to be in the air in fifteen minutes, they had him airborne in ten.

Even so, it wasn’t fast enough for Steve.

As they took off, Wanda drew close to him, eyeing him with concern. She’d been part of the team on and off over the last year, but her relationship with Vision had continually pulled at her. Steve had never made a big deal of it, if only because he understood.

Now, more than ever, he understood.

“Where are we going?” she asked over the roar of the engines, not giving voice to the worries that were so plainly evident on her face.

He smiled at her, trying to be reassuring. For in the face of disaster, it really was the little things that made it possible to survive. Steve had learned that as a child in Brooklyn, as a little boy who had nothing, who was nothing. Nothing except the breath in his lungs and the desire to fight.

It had been so easy back then. Brooklyn had made it easy.

He couldn’t think about Brooklyn now, though. Brooklyn was a memory, and Steve didn’t need a memory.

No, Steve needed just one thing right now, one thing before he faced the possible end of the galaxy as he knew it.

He met her gaze so she would understand. There was only one place to go when things got hard. One place to return when danger closed in.

“Home,” he declared, bracing himself against the wall as they lifted up higher.

And despite himself, Steve thought of goats herded in the Wakandan countryside, and smiled.

-o-

Logically, Steve knew that this situation was serious. Like, end of the world serious. That meant something for a guy like Steve, a guy who had survived (more or less) World War 2 and Hydra face to face, a guy who had helped close a wormhole in New York while deterring a god from another planet.

Thanos would eclipse that. Thanos would eclipse everything and everyone, and Steve knew that if he went to sleep this time, he wouldn’t be waking up.

But, as he set foot back in Wakanda, he couldn’t quite keep the buoyancy out of his step. And when he was face to face with Bucky, awake, alive and whole, Steve had never felt better.

It was the end of the world, maybe.

But it was the start of his time with Bucky, just like they had been when they were two boys, living in New York.

If it was going to be short, then Steve intended to enjoy it.

He wrapped his arms around Bucky, relishing the smell of his air, the feel of his skin, the sound of his beating heart steady against his own. This was the Bucky he knew; this was the Bucky who had grounded him all his life. This was the Bucky who had eaten pastries at a bakery in New York, and this was the Bucky who had fought by his side in World War 2. This was his Bucky.

And he’d never had more motivation to win a fight before. Usually, he fought because it was a cause worth dying for.

This cause, though? Bucky?

That was the only cause left worth living for.

-o-

Still, Steve sobered when he really took stock of what they were up against. Red Skull had been more than a playground bully, but Loki’s power had put him in perspective. Now, thinking about a powerful intergalactic being that might get even more powerful? With the ability to wipe out the galaxy just by thinking about it?

Well, Steve was getting kind of tired of perspective.

All the same, it was perspective Steve needed. When you came to the end of things, you had to know for sure what mattered most. He wasn’t about to sacrifice Vision’s life for the greater good. Because causes weren’t abstract things most of the time. Causes were people made of flesh and blood.

And, apparently, Infinity Stones.

There was no way to know if they would win this war.

He thought of Bucky as he resolved that he would not sacrifice the things that mattered most.

Some would it principle. Others might think of it as foolishness.

Steve knew it only to be love.

-o-

There was a lot to do, and Steve had never been one to postpone his responsibilities. However, he’d favored his responsibilities more than he cared to admit, and he could still hear Peggy’s voice over a crackling transistor radio, and he’d never forget Bucky’s face as he slipped through Steve’s fingers.

In short, Steve had lived long enough to know when it was worth taking a minute.

Him and Bucky, free and reunited at last: he’d spare more if he could.

“This isn’t quite how I imagined it,” Steve told Bucky, a hint of an apology in his voice. They were prepping while Shuri completed her examination of Vision’s anatomy. Steve would have preferred privacy, but then again, Steve would have preferred a lot of things. “Not in the least.”

Bucky smiled up at him, a lopsided smile Steve hadn’t seen since the war. “I woke up to be a goat herder,” he said. “So don’t look at me.”

“That’s my point,” Steve said. “All this time I’ve waited for you to wake up, and I missed it. Then, I have the audacity to bring you into another war you didn’t volunteer for.”

Bucky gave him a plaintive look. “My time fighting with you and the Howling Commandos -- it was the best of my life,” he said. “I didn’t volunteer, but you made sure I never regretted going.”

“Sure, but look how that turned out,” Steve reminded him with an air of self deprecation.”

Bucky glanced around, giving a shrug. “Doesn’t seem so bad now.”

“Except for the all powerful alien coming to destroy us,” Steve quipped.

Bucky grinned. “Except that.”

Steve’s smile faded and he bowed his head. He was unable to escape his duty, now more than ever. Still, he could feel it inside of him: this would be the last battle. One way or another.

Resolved, he lifted his eyes to Bucky once again. “After this, we’ll go home.”

“My hut’s a little small for two people,” Bucky replied.

Steve shook his head, utterly undeterred. “To New York,” he said. “Brooklyn, and that little corner bakery.”

Bucky furrowed his brow. “Is that actually still there?”

“No, but we’ll find another bakery,” Steve said, not missing a beat. “We’ll go back, rediscover New York. We’ll make it home again.”

This time, Bucky was skeptical. “I thought New York didn’t matter to you,” he said.

Steve scoffed in protest. “I never said that.”

“You always wanted to leave,” Bucky reminded him.

“Only because I was needed elsewhere,” Steve insisted. “I thought my life would be more valuable living for a cause.”

“Well,” Bucky said, tipping his head. “I think you might have been right, all things considered.”

Steve blushed slightly, feeling the warmth rise up in his cheeks. “Maybe,” he conceded. “But I didn’t realize it then, when we were kids. I didn’t realize that maybe I needed New York, even if the world needed me.”

Bucky seemed to contemplate that for a long, quiet moment. “You know, I still think you were right,” he said. “The cause was always more important.”

Steve was shaking his head without realizing he was doing it. Because he could remember it just as well as Bucky could, but he looked at the years of duty and sacrifice and no matter how many people he saved, he could only remember the ones he’d lost. “And I’ve told you before, I think you were right,” he returned.

Bucky’s lips lifted, the smile small and tainted with the sadness from the years they’d lost. “Sometimes I think it’s worse this way,” he said. “When we’re both right.”

And the years, though long, had always melted away between them. Here in Wakanda, on the brink of intergalactic war, they were two living boys in New York, two sides to the same coin. If one was ready, the other would hesitate. To think, all those years Steve spent looking for causes, and here was the one he’d taken for granted.

“That’s because we keep looking back to try to resolve things,” Steve said. “After this battle, after this last fight, we don’t look back anymore. We just look forward.”

Bucky’s smile widened imperceptibly, but Steve could see the lightness brighten in his eyes. “One last fight,” he said. “And then we go to New York.”

“One last fight,” Steve promised, as certain as he’d ever been as his heart swelled in his chest and his stomach fluttered. “And then we go home.”

-o-

He and Bucky had a habit of living a history on repeat. A story where they come together just to slip through each other’s fingers at the last possible second. It was why they’d had the same conversation three times.

It was the habit Steve had vowed to break.

Three times, after all, was more than enough.

But when Thanos came, he won.

Standing there, defeated on the battlefield, Steve remembered what it was like to fight in the back alleys of New York, losing every time. Far as he’d come, he was still curling his fists, telling the universe he was ready for more.

When he looked to Bucky, walking toward him in the aftermath, Steve entertained the thought that they might be okay.

That was the second before Bucky turned to ash, dissolving into the windless sky on Wakanda’s soiled ground.

History, repeating.

Just like that, Bucky slipped through Steve’s fingers again.

-o-

They thought they could fix it.

Steve couldn’t blame them, not really. He’d always been an impossible dreamer, the one fighting for lost causes because someone had to. In some ways, he respected Thor’s tenacity to keep the fight. He would have lauded Natasha’s integrity, and he would have felt fortified by the resolve of the entire Wakandan army.

Not this time, though.

Steve had taken a lot of punches in his life, but none of them had hit like this. Because Steve Rogers, he’d always been good enough, a living boy from New York, ready and able to save the world.

Not this time.

Because this time Steve picked a fight in the back alley of the galaxy, and he lost. The biggest bully the universe would ever know walked scot free because, in the end, Steve Rogers really was just a kid from New York when the world needed a superhero.

If that was all it was, Steve might have been able to live with that. He wasn’t stupid; he wasn’t conceited. He knew his limitations, always had. He’d always accepted what he couldn’t do with the grace of a man who would fight the fight anyway.

Not this time.

Because this time, Bucky was gone.

Steve’s home was gone.

Before, it would have made Steve want to fight.

Not this time.

This time, without Bucky, Steve wanted to quit.

-o-

The others dragged him back to New York, at Tony’s request. Steve hit the ground with numb legs, and if he’d had the emotional wherewithal, he would have run in the opposite direction. But he was a man without a cause for the first time in his life.

He’d follow the lead of others, even when they marched him into New York.

At the top of Avengers Tower, Tony greeted them with drinks. He looked worse for wear, less effusive than he normally was. There was no glint in his eye anymore; there was no cocky arrogance. Instead, he handed Steve a drink and told him to drink.

Steve gave him a wary look.

“Trust me,” Tony said. “For the fight I’m about to pitch to you, you’re going to need it.”

“We can’t win, Tony,” Steve told him flatly. “We’re not soldiers anymore.”

Tony gave a shrug, hardened and jaded. “Maybe not,” he said. “But I’m ready to start jumping on grenades, if you know what I mean.”

Steve did know, because he’d been the one to reprimand Tony for his lack of resolve all those years ago. He’d been the one to bring them together, to talk about the sacrifice and the greater good. He’d been the one to inspire the others to greatness, to hold them together long enough to save the world.

Throat tight, Steve shook his head. “I’m not sure I can jump on anymore grenades,” he admitted.

Tony sighed, finally drinking Steve’s drink for him before downing his own. “Pepper’s gone, you know. I mean, Peter Parker, Happy, Steven Strange -- they’re all gone. Them and people I don’t even know, all over the galaxy.”

Steve turned his back, moving toward the window to look out over the impressive view of the city. From here, he could see Brooklyn. He could almost see the apartment where he grew up, the little bakery that should have never shut down.

“We already lost, Tony,” Steve reminded him, feeling the emptiness echo inside of him. He could still feel Bucky’s ash on his fingers before he’d dissipated into dust.

“I know, I do,” Tony said. “And I know, better than anyone, that sometimes the easy fixes aren’t the ones that turn out the right way.”

Steve gritted his teeth, trying not to think of Ultron lifting the city of Sokovia out of the ground. Funny, how the destruction of a city seemed quaint now. Inconsequential.

“So I’m not offering you an easy fix,” Tony said. “In fact, if we do this, we may never come home again.”

Steve turned, brow furrowed. “Then why do it?”

“Because,” Tony said. “Everyone else might get to.”

Everyone else. Pepper, Happy, the rest of the Avengers.

Bucky.

Tony shrugged. “I wouldn’t blame you for saying no,” he said. “It’s probably suicide.”

Steve walked over, taking the bottle from Tony and pouring himself a glass. “I’m in,” he said, pouring one for Tony, too.

Tony took it grimly, raising it high. “Here’s to never coming home again.”

Steve clinked his glass to Tony’s before downing his drink in a single, burning gulp.

-o-

It was an impossible fight.

It was a suicide run.

It was probably never going to work.

In other words, it was the same old, same old for Steve Rogers, the boy from New York.

Because he’d give up everything to get the one thing back.

Or he’d fight like hell and die trying.

-o-

Sometimes, the littlest fighters win.

Sometimes, the sickest kids grow up strong.

Sometimes, the ones that everyone rejects end up saving the world.

Sometimes, you win.

Thanos had all the power in the galaxy, but Steve had more reasons than that to fight. He had the passion, the volatility, the ragged truth of a man with nothing left to lose. He had the conversations he never finished and the promises he still wanted to keep.

Really, even with the Infinity Stones and half the galaxy gone, Thanos never stood a chance.

-o-

There were parties and celebrations, apologies and accolades. There were hugs and tears, forgiveness and rejoicing. That was all well and good, but Steve wasn’t thinking about that.

Instead, he wrapped his fingers into Bucky’s hand, intertwining them and pulling him closer. He wasn’t about to let go this time.

“Come on,” Steve said. “Let’s go.”

Bucky gave him a bewildered look. “Go where?”

Steve could only smile, knowing that this was what perfection felt like. “Home.”

-o-

The wars would rage.

Heroes would rise and fall.

There were a lot of causes, many worth fighting for. Some worth dying for.

The Avengers called, from time to time. Steve answered politely, but his answer was already the same. He was at peace with that, but Bucky wasn’t so sure.

“You never used to say no,” he hedged, curled up under a blanket in the bedroom of the Brooklyn apartment they now shared.

“No, I never used to take no for an answer,” Steve corrected him. “I was looking for someone to say yes.”

Bucky sighed. “You said the world needed you, and you never shied away from that,” he said. “I think it still might.”

“It always will need heroes,” Steve agreed, rustling under the sheets to edge closer to Bucky.

Bucky still resisted him, though. “You said your life was better served that way,” he said. “That you didn’t have the right to live while other people laid down their lives.”

“The world can wait,” Steve told him patiently. “I know my cause now. I know where I belong.”

Bucky brow his brows together, clearly uncertain. “Do you love New York that much?”

Steve smiled, slipping his arm around Bucky. “Parts of it, maybe.”

Almost despite himself, Bucky smiled back. He nodded out the window, to the same Brooklyn neighborhood where they grew up. They’d taken some time to invest in it, to get to know the people. And they’d pooled their money, pulled in some favors with friends who had a hand or two in New York real estate, and bought a little storefront property down the way. A bakery.

“This is where we started, you know,” Bucky observed, and somewhere in his careworn eyes, he was still the same boy pulling him out of fights and reminding him to put his fists down.

Steve drew him closer still, breathing in Bucky’s scent as he remembered all they’d lost, all they’d gained. “I know,” he said, voice low as he dipped his head toward Bucky’s, foreheads pressed together. “Let it be where we end, too.”

Bucky closed his eyes, humming his agreement as the sun rose over Brooklyn.