“JARVIS, what am I looking at?” Steve asked.
The images you are currently viewing Captain, were captured by the security cameras of DJs Super Stop in Priest River, Idaho during a failed robbery last night. Three armed men entered the shop last night at 9:45 pm and threatened the cashier at gunpoint. The attempt failed when the man, who you now see on screen, intercepted them. He disarmed all three attackers in less than fifteen seconds before ascertaining that the cashier was unharmed and then left the premises.
“Is that…Is that a Dodger’s baseball cap?” Steve gasped, leaning in closer to his tablet to make sure that his eyes were not deceiving him, and he really was seeing a white baseball cap with a blue B on its crown, just like on the one he had left in Bucky’s backpack three weeks ago.
Correct sir, JARVIS went on. While the man was very careful to avoid all of the security cameras and at no point allowed for an image of his face to be captured, if you look closely at all of the images, which I have taken the liberty of cleaning up, you can see that he is a tall, Caucasian male, with long dark hair, who is indeed wearing a Brooklyn Dodger’s baseball cap.
“And is that…Is that…”
Confirm Captain Rogers. It also appears as if the man is carrying a blue and grey backpack, similar to the one you had prepared three weeks ago.
“Holy shit! Holy shit! It’s him JARVIS. It’s Bucky,” Steve said, moving in even closer to study the images on his screen.
I would agree, Captain. Which is why I pulled the images for your attention.
As Steve scrutinized the photos, once grainy but now much clearer after JARVIS had done whatever he had done to them, Steve found himself questioning why. Why now, when Bucky had clearly avoided having his image captured before. After almost a year since the helicarriers, why was this the first time that Bucky was letting his picture be taken, when he knew Steve was out there looking for him.
“JARVIS, do you think that maybe,” Steve paused and allowed the thought to stumble around his head, grow roots and start to take shape. “That maybe Bucky’s baiting me? Asking me to come out there?”
Perhaps, the AI responded. Or perhaps Sergeant Barnes is testing you.
“Huh.” Steve drummed his fingers on the table as he pondered JARVIS’ words. Was he right? Was this some sort of test? And if it was, what answers was Bucky looking for.
Either way, if you look at your phone, you’ll see that I have taken the liberty of booking you a seat on the next flight out of BWI to Spokane, Washington. It is the closest major airport, and a rental car will be waiting for you when you arrive. If you leave now, you should be able to make the flight, which leaves in two hours. There is already a car waiting for you outside to take you there.
“Thanks buddy,” Steve said as he rose and made his way over to his hall closet where his bag and another backpack were waiting.
You are very welcome, Captain Rogers, JARVIS replied as Steve checked his pockets for his keys and wallet. I wish you success in finding your friend.
Priest River was in the upper north of Idaho, about 75 miles south of the Canadian border. It was a smaller town than any of the ones Bucky had previously been through, and that caused Steve some concern. With such a small population, and having made his presence already known, its proximity to Canada made Steve wonder if this was Bucky’s last stop in America, before he disappeared into another country, where Steve would have to search harder and the travel times would be longer.
As Steve pulled into the parking lot of the Eagle’s Nest Motel, staring at the long grey building, with its pale pillars and a railing that was covered with - Are you fucking kidding me, Bucky? - wooden bears, Steve was certain that Bucky wasn’t baiting or testing him, but fucking with him. Absolutely, and with unabashed glee, fucking with him.
After checking in, and smiling at the staff and taking over a dozen photos, once Steve had been assured that there were only two other rooms currently in use at the hotel, and none of them by a man matching Bucky’s description, Steve settled into his room. He stared out of his window past the three bear sculptures (there were three of them, three, right outside of his window) and into the glorious landscape beyond, mountains and forests and bright blue sky, while he drummed his fingers over his thigh.
“All right Bucky, I’m here. Just like you wanted,” he spoke into the air. “Now come find me.”
Priest River really was a lovely little town, with its beautiful mountainous views and lush woodland. The air was clean and fresh, and Steve knew it would have done wonders for his asthma when he had been younger, before the serum had changed everything about him. (Steve wondered if that was part of the reason why Bucky had chosen this place, some long buried memory niggling him about Steve’s lungs.) But in spite of all of that, there really wasn’t much for him to do. It had a population of less than two thousand, and most of the town’s activities involved hunting, fishing and wood-working. He had still walked the streets, spoken to everyone he could, but aside from the clerk at the convenience store, no one else had seen anyone who matched Bucky’s description. It felt like a frustrating dead end, and Steve wondered why Bucky had tried to lure him here, if not to reach out.
It was the third day of his stay, and Steve had decided to take a hike along one of the many local trails, hoping the change of scenery would jar something in his mind, when he felt it. The pause, the stillness underneath it all, the watching.
Steve stopped abruptly along the trail and took a long look around. Nothing had changed. The breeze was blowing, and the birds were still chirping, and as before, there was nothing in the air to indicate that someone else was there. But Steve knew.
He took another look around, at the trees and the nearby bushes and grass, and he was suddenly struck by a memory of a conversation with Clint, where he had been going on and on about some movie – was it Halloween, Friday the 13th, where the unstoppable serial killer stalked his victims through a campsite, picking them off one by one - and realized how stupid he had been. There was no one out here, and he didn’t have his shield. Erskine’s serum had done wonderful things to his body, but even he doubted that it was strong enough to resist a shot to the head. Had Bucky lured him out here to kill him, to eliminate the only person that seemed to be aware of his existence, where hunting was a common pastime, and an accident could easily be blamed on an unwary hiker?
Swallowing hard, Steve lowered the back pack from his shoulders, and slowly moved to the side of the trail he had been following, putting his back up against a tree. He didn’t want to believe it, and he hated himself for thinking that of Bucky, but he was going to be cautious nevertheless. He scanned the nearby landscape, using his heightened vision to search for any disruption, no matter how small, but just as before, as there had always been, there was nothing.
“Bucky? Is that you?” he asked on an exhale, once his heartbeat finally started to slow. “Are you out there Bucky?”
Above him birds chirped and leaves rustled, but as usual there was no answer.
“I followed the lead you left Buck, and came all the way out here, just like you wanted.” Steve’s voice got stronger with every word he spoke, carrying out onto the breeze. “Won’t you come out and let me see you?” And just like that, just as his breath had started to get stronger, it left Steve all in a rush, and he felt weak, weaker than he had since his teen years, when even the air he tried to breathe seemed to hate him. “Please Bucky. Please. Just let me see you.” It was almost a sob. “I’m worried. And I miss you. And I just want you to come home. Please Bucky, please…Just let me see you.” Steve laid his hand over the chain he had started wearing around his neck and waited.
But there was, as there had always been, since that day in the mountains, and an icy train ride, and watching his best friend falling to his death, nothing but a silence and a heart aching for its other half to make it whole.
“All right Bucky, all right.” It could have been an hour, a day, seventy years later before Steve finally spoke again. “Not this time I guess, huh? But here,” Steve carefully lowered the backpack, red and black this time, to the roots of the tree he had been standing against, and gave it a gentle pat. “This is for you. Same as last time. No phone this time, but I hope it’s helped. My number is still in the front pocket, and I hope you know you can call me if there’s anything you need…Please call me Buck. Please.”
Steve was just about to step away from the tree and make his way back to his motel, when there was a rustling and a chattering from nearby, before a chipmunk scurried in front of him and then disappeared in the underbrush on the other side of the path. Steve watched it for a second, and when he looked up, the feeling that had been haunting him for months now was gone.
As Steve slowly made his way back to the Eagle’s Nest Motel, he found himself questioning everything that he was doing. Bucky knew he was out there, was trailing him. Three times now, Steve knew Bucky had watched him. But he still refused to make contact, no matter what Steve did or said. Steve couldn’t help but think he was wasting his time. If Bucky wanted to reach out to him, why hadn’t he already? Steve didn’t know, and he was starting to question his sanity as he stepped onto the pathway outside of his hotel room and froze.
Because there, on that damned bear that was lying oh so casually across the railing, was a jauntily perched Brooklyn Dodgers’ baseball cap.
“Okay Bucky, all right,” Steve laughed as he picked the cap up and popped it on his head. “You win this round.”