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The Hunt

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Another week. Then two. Then four. But this time, Steve could be patient. It wasn’t that the waiting wasn’t any less agonizing. It was more that now Steve had a general idea of where to look, which direction to turn his focus.

 

And he knew, he knew, that Bucky had been there that night. Had seen. Had been watching him. Was aware that Steve was out there. Was probably just as aware that Steve was trying to find him. He had watched, but hadn’t struck. Observed, but hadn‘t acted. Would Bucky go deeper now, even further off the grid than he had already been living. Or would he change tactics, directions, start heading for someplace else.

 

Steve didn’t think so. Bucky had always been a stubborn son of a bitch, and if he was determined to do something there was nothing that would stop him. And Bucky had pulled him out of the Potomac that day, hadn’t completed his mission when it had been programmed into him to kill Captain America.

 

So Steve was pretty certain (he hoped) that Bucky knew he wasn’t a threat. He was also pretty certain that if Bucky had thought Steve was, he wouldn’t be sitting in his living room, unharmed, right now.

 

So he kept all of the background searches the same, but this time asked JARVIS to focus on any cities and towns, no matter how small, west of Denver, hoping Bucky would keep to the pattern, follow the course he had set for himself.

 

“If he keeps to what he’s been doing, it’s probably going to be somewhere north of Denver, yeah?”

 

Agreed, said the text upon his tablet.

 

“So let’s keep a look out. Eyes for any similar activity in the northwest.”

 

Confirm, Captain Rogers.

 

In the third week of July, Steve received another highlighted ping from the AI.

 

Unknown Man Carries Three Senior Citizens from Burning Building, Riverton, Wyoming.

 

Steve grabbed his bag by the door, which was now always ready, and caught the next flight out from BWI.

 

***

 

Riverton was a small city in central Wyoming not too far from the mountains. The air was cool and crisp in the early spring, and the people hard working but friendly. Mr. Levitz, Mr. Abraham and Mr. Sampson were in their seventies, and lived in an older building in a poorer part of the town, all the three of them could afford on their Social Security. Apparently their downstairs neighbor had fallen asleep while smoking, causing first her bedding, then the apartment and finally the building to catch on fire.

 

As Steve sat across from them at the rickety table in the kitchen of Mr. Sampson’s daughter’s apartment, they told him a story that was now long familiar to him.

 

Mr. Sampson recounted how he had been woken up by the sound of their smoke detectors going off, heavy black smoke filling the air. Struggling to breathe, coughing and gasping as he tried to find his way through the thick, opaque air, stumbling to the floor, and knowing, with a horrid certainty, that this was the end. How at just that instant, the door had  suddenly burst open, and as he thanked god that the fire department had finally arrived, even though he hadn’t heard the sounds of any sirens yet, a man scooped him up, (and it had to be a man, a woman just wouldn’t have been strong enough to do it that easily), and carried him down the stairs, carefully depositing the elderly man outside on the curb, before he turned around, without even gasping for breath, and repeated the process two more times. How afterwards, the man had knelt over him and asked, in a quiet but intense voice, if he was all right, with the sounds of sirens finally coming closer. Mr. Sampson had looked up into a pale face, with long brown hair and blue eyes, before bending over to cough out the blackened phlegm from his lungs, only to find that the man was now gone, just as suddenly as he appeared.

 

None of the three men had gotten a name, or a chance to say thank you, nor did they think that they had ever seen the man before. But he had come in out of nowhere and saved them, and even though all of their worldly possessions were lost, they were thankful to their nameless savior, for his strength and bravery, because they still had their lives.

 

When Steve showed them the picture on his phone, they couldn’t confirm that that had been their rescuer, although Mr. Sampson was pretty sure it may have been him. None of the fire fighters on shift that night had seen any strangers lingering around the scene, but Steve knew this had to be Bucky’s work.

 

There wasn’t much to Riverton, even though Steve spent the next three days there, doing his usual visits and trying to get a sense of where someone would nest if they were trying not to be found. But just like before, like all of the times before, he found nothing.

 

Until late the second afternoon, before he was scheduled to leave the next morning, he was cutting through a small park on the way back to his hotel, when the hair on the back of his neck stood up, and he felt it again, that silence between heartbeats, that careful study that he doubted anyone without any enhanced senses would have felt.

 

He was being watched.

 

Steve was prepared for it this time.

 

Instead of freezing like he had previously, he took a slow and very deliberate look around. But there was no one there. A few trees, a couple of benches and the surrounding buildings. He even did a quick scan of the nearby rooftops, but there was nothing anywhere that could have provided enough cover to hide a man of Bucky’s size.

 

But Steve knew someone was there.

 

“Hey Bucky,” he said quietly, as he slowly approached one of the nearby benches, carefully nestled between three trees to catch most of the late afternoon shade. He slid the backpack he had taken to carrying over his shoulder this trip off of his arms and slowly placed it on the bench, before sitting down. “It’s Steve, Bucky. Do you remember me?”

 

No answer. Just the softly chirping birds, and nearby traffic. And that silence, that was deeper than any silence, underneath it all.

 

“I just want to talk to you Bucky. Make sure that you’re all right,” he went on, keeping his voice soft, gentle, encouraging. “Why don’t you come on out, and I’ll buy you a cup of coffee, and we can talk, just like we used to. Just talk. That’s it.”

 

Nothing. But the feeling didn’t go away. Steve sighed.

 

“Please Buck? I’d really like to see you. It’s been so long, and I’ve been worried.”

 

Five minutes. Ten. Fifteen. Thirty and still nothing. The shadows grew longer, shifting in the dying light as the lampposts started to shift on with a quiet buzzing. Steve sat, and waited and waited and waited, but nothing changed.

 

“Okay Bucky. Not this time I guess huh?” Steve sighed an hour and a half later. “I’m going to get going, let you get on with your day. But I’m leaving this here for you. It’s yours.” At this, Steve patted the backpack. Inside there were clothes, a couple of sandwiches and granola bars, and a few bottles of Gatorade, as well as three hundred dollars in twenties, tens and fives. “There are no bugs, or tracking devices.” Steve had thought about it, he really had. But he knew that if he did put anything on them, Bucky would find them. He had never been stupid, and if there was one thing that HYDRA did, it was to train their agents well. If Bucky discovered any sort of tracking device, Steve knew that there would never be another sign, that he would never hear from Bucky again. “My number’s in the pocket in the front. If you need anything, or just want to talk, to say hello, you can call me anytime. Anytime Buck, okay?”

 

With that, Steve slowly rose, keeping his movements smooth and even. He lifted the backpack from the bench, and then carefully placed it at the shadowed base of the nearest tree. He took one last, long, slow look around, before smiling a small smile, and walking the rest of the way back to his hotel.

 

***

 

When Steve went back to the park two hours later, the backpack was gone.

 

***

 

Any success Captain? JARVIS texted him when he got home the next day.

 

“I think so JARVIS,” he responded. “But we’ll have to wait and see. Keep running the same search parameters, but let’s keep an eye on the south this time.”

 

Of course Captain.