“I had a dream
that you were
But I wasn’t even
I just sang you to sleep
I sang you to sleep”
“Well I doubt the Tesseract is down here…” Tony starts, walking behind Steve, trying to keep up.
“It's not.” Steve says bluntly as his feet push down into the soft snow.
"Okay...then where is it?"
Tony nods. "Who's down here?"
"No. The only person who knows where Schmidt is, is on the train."
"The train you told the others to board and serve as lookout?" Tony asks, confused.
"So why can't we just go to where Schmidt is right now?"
"I won't know exactly where he is for another few days. He's probably not there yet."
"Okay.." Tony says, still unsure. Did they need a weapon to use on Schmidt? “Then ...why are we down here?”
Steve doesn’t say anything just keeps walking.
“Rogers!” Tony yells to get the man’s attention.
“Just something I have to do.” Steve answers.
“Okay. Does it have to do with the mission because you know we-”
“Yes.” Steve says bluntly, interrupting Tony.
“Okay…” Tony eyes Steve curiously. “Look I know it’s hard going back to your time but-”
“Will you just shut up for a minute please?” Steve cuts Tony off again.
Tony raises his hands up in surrender. “So much for pep talks.”
They walk side by side a while longer. Steve, determined. Tony, sighing every 3 minutes.
“You know I could’ve just flown us there instead of trudging in the snow for hours,” Tony says. It hadn’t quite been hours.
“You didn’t have to come,” Steve says quietly.
“Right. But I wasn’t lying when I said no one is going on solo missions. We’re not separating.” Not again.
Steve doesn’t say anything. Just keeps walking.
“You wanna let me know what we’re looking for?” Tony asks. “Two sets of eyes are always...better than one….” Tony trails off when he notices Steve isn’t paying attention once again.
Tony sighs dramatically again. “Seriously, Rogers. I can just grab you, fly you above the area, then when you spot whatever it is you can-”
Steve stops then, Tony almost bumping right into him.
“What? What is it?”
Steve is silent, fear this time instead of determination.
“What is it? What are we seeing…?”
Steve takes off in front of him, slowly. His feet slinking down into the snow carefully.
Tony squints into the distance to see, still not moving from his spot. Steve was closer to the object now. Tony couldn’t tell what it was. Was it an animal? Did they really take off from the group to rescue Yogi Bear? But Tony stops, thinks. And he remembers. The year. The date. The train.
“Rogers!” Tony yells out.
Steve already ahead of Tony walks over to the figure laying on the ground. The dark blue uniform contrasting only slightly with the snow it not comparing at all to the dramatic contrast of the crimson color that surrounds the figure, caused by the now missing limb. Steve knows Tony is somewhere behind him but he doesn’t care.
“Cap, What’re you…” He hears Tony start to say as Steve approaches the man he spent all afternoon looking for, begging the God he asked to save his mother if he’d do him a favor. Just one small favor. Not have Bucky conscious.
Once again his prayers fail as he sees the man under him moving his head in the snow, groaning weakly in pain. Steve walks carefully the last remaining steps.
“Oh God,” Steve lets out. It hurts him to see, worse than he thought.
“What’re you doing?” Tony lets out. It’s a whisper but still firm. He grabs Steve’s arm.
“I can...I can save him,” Steve says, grabbing his hand back as he circles to Bucky’s head. The man under him lolling his head back and forth in the snow, struggling to open his eyes.
“I...s-someone?” He struggles to let out. “ ‘omeone t-there?”
No one says anything for a minute, surprised the broken man under them could even utter words.
“You can’t…” Tony says, it’s too quiet and he’s not sure if Steve even heard him or if he just ignored.
“I need help,” Bucky whispers again to all he knew were strangers above him.
Tony practically sees Steve’s heart crumble through the emotions that were painted on his face but he has to stop this.
“Cap!” Tony says louder. He grabs Steve, pushing him away from the body. Steve looks at him, betrayed.
“You cannot do this. You can’t save him.” Tony says sternly. Stopping after each word so Steve could get it through his head. Steve opens his mouth struggling to form the words “what?” or “why?”. He’s unable to say them so Tony continues.
“You’re changing too much,” He says. “Without…” He looks at Barnes on the ground. “Without The Winter Soldier so many events that changed the world would not occur. And, while they were tragic, changing them could change the future astronomically and those changes could be potentially catastrophic. Did you tell the others to board the train so they wouldn't be here?"
Steve doesn't say anything.
"They weren't in danger. Me and..." Steve stops. "We took out the threats."
Steve shakes his head. He moves away from Tony but away from the body. He’s shaking and not just from the cold.
“We can,” Steve starts, and Tony is already shaking his head again.
“Even the smallest changes Steve-”
“We can see how they change....and change the other things we can, so the end will be the same…”
“Okay so which one of us is going to assassinate the president?” Tony quips. Then looks at Steve with the utmost sympathy. He can’t imagine what he’d do if that was Pepper lying in the snow. “We can go back and forth an infinite amount of times and still won’t get it right. We can’t take him from this path.”
Tony thinks worst case Steve won’t listen to him, he’ll go back to the body, pick up Barnes, and Tony’s going to have to be responsible for knocking Steve out and laying a traumatized soldier back in the snow. Or thinks best case Steve will listen and follow him back to the rest of the team.
Best case scenario wasn’t in the cards.
Steve had turned away from him at some point after the assassination comment but he’s turned back to him now.
“What about your parents?” Steve asks.
Tony swallows hard, now it’s his turn to feel this heart ache in his chest. The brief ideas of what he could have, what he should’ve been allowed to have enter his mind but he shakes his head, erasing those thoughts.
“We can’t bring them back,” he says, quickly, much to Steve’s surprise. “Just like we can’t save JFK or any of the other victims of the bullshit that hydra or their allies made him do on their ‘missions’. We can’t change history. We aren’t meant to, Steve.”
The Steve is said quietly but enough for them both to hear but the blonde wasn’t reacting to what Tony was saying. Tony breathes in. “Steve.” He says louder, more clear, making sure the Captain understood what he was saying. He never says Steve’s first name, it usually being Cap or Rogers, but using it now seemed to hit Steve differently and the man finally looks up to Tony and nods, understanding the man’s point.
They turn, about to walk away from the man they couldn’t save but who desperately needed it.
It’s now that Tony regrets giving Steve’s first name when him and Rogers hear something barely audible from below them.
It was like seeing the barrel of the gun and knowing what was going to happen for a split second before the trigger was pulled.
For a moment they both stand still. So still. Tony unsure what Steve is going to do. Is he going to knock him out in an attempt to run away with Barnes?
Tony almost prepares for an attack; keeps his feet planted, feels the inside of his pocket for the button that will trigger his suit. But Steve isn’t moving. He’s staring right at him, his eyes so wide Tony can almost see the imperfection of the hint of green Zemo had talked about.
“Steve…? That- that you?” The voice chokes out, slowly.
Tony watches as Steve looks over at the body then back at him, his whole body shaking. Tony knows when Steve makes his decision and Tony nods. There’s nothing he can do. Tony backs away from his position by Barnes as Steve falls down by the body.
He presses a button on his arm and speaks into it. “I’m sending you guys the coordinates to where we are. You have 15 minutes.”
15 minutes. He’s not sure if it’s too long or too short but if things go south he’d need the others there. If Steve needed more convincing or to be dragged away he’d need them.
Tony turns back to the two men on the ground. He doesn’t want to intrude, he shouldn’t be a part of this but for the safety of well...the world as they knew it, he has to.
“St-” Bucky try to say again but Steve interrupts.
“It’s me, Buck,” Steve rests his knees by Bucky’s right shoulder. He watches as the man tries desperately to look up at him. “I’m right here,” He says, pulling the gloves off his hands and throwing them in the snow by him. He leans over, his left hand brushing through Bucky’s hair. It’s short, like how it was when he knew him best.
“Steve?” He tries to move, to sit up, get a better look at Steve because how could he be here when he was just with him on the train begging him to grab his hand.
But he couldn’t. They were barely out of touch, he could feel Steve’s hand with his fingers, but it was still too far to hold and he fell. He hasn’t looked over at his left arm since he no longer felt it but he felt everything else.
The man above him is blurry but he talks to him anyway.
“I’m-I’m hurt... bad” It’s half a question, because Bucky’s not exactly sure how hurt he is or how he even could survive that fall. If that happened at all. His brain is foggy, he must’ve hit it, maybe that’s what the pain was from.
“Yeah,” The voice says softly and he can feel the hand in his hair, cradling his head gently. Okay so that was confirmation he needed as he resisted looking to his left.
Bucky swallows and it burns more than he thought it would. “I’m,” he starts to say his throat won't let him and he’s now aware how cold he is. He’s not sure how long he’s been laying in the snow, but long enough for Steve to be here. If that even was Steve.
“I’m so…” he starts again. “I’m so cold, Steve.” The man above him hesitates and Bucky can see his figure look behind past him, towards his left, where his arm was...or wasn’t. But before Bucky can turn that way too the voice speaks to him.
“I know, honey. I know.” And, God, it sounds like Steve. It sounds so much like him. Bucky blinks, begging his eyes to focus on the man above him. Angel? Ghost? His own hallucination? Whatever comfort he was given he was going to get. He can feel hands on his body, warm, or warmer then what he felt earlier. But they’re feelings of comfort not of rescue.
“I need help,” Bucky says softly. Why wasn’t the figure helping him? Why wasn’t it pulling him off this frozen bed? It won't be long till he won't be able to speak anymore. He wants to ask for help again, maybe it didn’t hear him but then he can hear the distraught intake of breath by the angel above him and he knows the answer.
“I can’t,” The voice chokes out and Bucky closes his eyes and cries.
He cries because he knows if this was Steve and he couldn’t help him it must be bad. He cries because the Steve who’s arms he just left is going to mourn him for God knows how long and he didn’t want that for him. He cries because the Steve with him now, if real, was going to carry the greatest guilt. And he cries because if the person by him couldn’t help him, maybe he was an hallucination and maybe he really was dying. So he panics. He opens his eyes and panics but now he can see clearly.
“Steve.” He says. More sure, more clear then he has since the fall. And Steve, who had been looking up to the sky, looks down at him.
He looks different. He’s crying, The tears are running down his face like a waterfall and Bucky wants to do nothing more then reach out and wipe them away, but his left arm won't budge and his right won't reach him the way they’re positioned. Bucky moves his head to look better at the one he loves most.
“You look tired,” Bucky says, his head starting to feel very light.
Steve lets out a small laugh, a tear shooting from his face onto the snow below him. Bucky always looking out for him.
“I am tired, Buck”. Tired of losing. Tired of losing you. Bucky tries to lift his right arm up again but he can’t. In the attempt it brushes by Steve’s and he grabs hold of it.
This seems to give the reverse reaction Bucky was going for and it causes the sobs Steve was fighting to choke back come through.
“I’m sorry,” He says. “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.” He repeats over and over. And Bucky doesn’t understand. His brain won’t let him understand but he says all he can say.
“It’s okay,” He grabs Steve’s hand harder and Steve leans down onto his shoulder practically burying himself in the snow. Bucky wants to scold Steve that he better not freeze his ass off too but he’s starting to not feel right. The cold numbed his pain a bit ago and his mind was moving slower.
“...see each other again?” He gets out, losing the ‘will we’ somewhere between thinking the words and getting them out.
“You’ll see me again,” Steve says, conveniently avoiding the answer to the question he wasn’t sure he could honestly say. Will he see the Bucky he knew after all of this? Will he still be alive after all of this? After they defeat Thanos and bring everyone back?
“Steve…” He hears, not from the man in the snow but from somewhere away from them. He looks over to Tony giving a sympathetic look but letting him know they had to go. And he knows he has to, he has to leave Bucky behind. He never should have came, never should have subjected them both to this. But now that he’s done this he can’t have Bucky watch him walk away from him. He can’t have him awake as he abandons him, left for dead.
Bucky,” he breathes out, steadying his voice. “I need you to do something for me..”
“Hmm?” Bucky looks up at Steve, his blue eyes still so lost, so naive to what was happening.
“I need you to close your eyes.”
Bucky’s eyes search slowly across Steve’s face, taking him in again and listens. His eyes shut slowly and it’s not lost on Steve this is the last time he’ll see them without the pain and guilt of 70 years brainwashed by hydra.
“M’ head feels weird,” Bucky mumbles, and Steve has to steady his breathing to not break down.
“I know...I know. Just rest,” he palms his hand through Bucky’s hair again. You’ll be alright. You’ll be okay.” He lies. He has to because he knows, he knows what’s coming forward in Bucky’s fate. He can’t stop it.
“I love you so much,” Steve says. He watches Bucky swallow.
“I need you to go to sleep for me okay?” Steve asks.
Steve hears Bucky sigh. “M’ tired.”
“That’s good. I want you to sleep and dream.” Steve says and runs his hand down Bucky’s face, softly “Dream of...summer days. The sun beating down on our skin. The fairs. The ball games.”
Stolen kisses in the alleyways after dark and a day full of outside activities.
Steve whispers more things to Bucky till there’s nothing left for him to think about. He waits a moment or two after.
“Bucky?” He calls out. Nothing. “Bucky?” He calls out again. Nothing again. He can hear the sound of the Quinjet in the distance and knows his time is almost up. He builds snow around Bucky’s left arm, kisses his forehead, and leans down by his ear.
He whispers something in Bucky’s ear, something only the both of them can hear. He knows Tony’s been listening in case he told Bucky he was there to save him and just needed to distract Tony enough to get away. He knows this which is why he whispers his last words to Bucky.
And he doesn’t hear those words again until he repeats them once more on the hellcarrier.
He doesn’t think of that right now. He doesn’t think about how the next time Bucky opens his eyes it’ll be the start of the horror of the next 70 years.
He doesn’t think about that until he gets home, locking himself in his room for days.
“I remember tears streaming down your face
When I said I'll never let you go
When all those shadows almost killed your light
I remember you said, ‘Don't leave me here alone’
But all that's dead and gone and passed tonight”
6 months later
Nothing changed because of Steve’s mission. Hydra infiltrating SHIELD still happened. Bucharest. The fateful video from December 16th 1991. The Avengers split. But this time Thanos lost. Everyone returned. Well mostly everyone. Not all fates could be changed and not all of history was saved.
Bucky was back and so was Sam, both seeming to get along a lot better then before but that could’ve just been progress on their part.
It’s not until it’s all done and everything is settled that Steve even thinks to ask Bucky.
“What do you remember after the fall? The train?” Steve asks after establishing he was about to ask Bucky something he might not want to answer.
Bucky breathes in. “Not much.” Buck says.
“You don’t remember anything before…” Before hydra. Before the surgeries. Before the experiments.
Bucky thinks and shrugs. “My head was messed with so much it’s hard to know what was real or not,” Bucky starts. “But there was something…” He trails off, waits to see if Steve was really okay with this. When he gets the ‘go on’ nod from his boyfriend he continues.
“There was this figure. A man.” Bucky lets out a dry laugh. “I was so convinced he was just an illusion but he was so warm. I could feel him. His presence was ...a comfort.” Bucky smiles warmly and looks over at Steve. “I thought he was you.” He almost laughs. “But that’s impossible.”
Steve’s breath is caught in his throat but he nods for Bucky to go further again.
Bucky shrugs. “I don’t know whatever or whoever it was. I really held on to that. When they locked me in and put me back on ice… I just kept hearing him.” Bucky looks down at his fingers. “The only peace I had.” He looks back up and see’s Steve face no longer staring at him but stuck between his legs, his shoulders shaking as sobs wracked through his body.
“Steve?” Bucky gets up quickly walking over to the man. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have mentioned hydra-”
“No, no it’s not that.” Steve lets out and looks back at Bucky. “You can talk about it if you’re comfortable I just-” He looks down again.
“What is it?”
“I did something stupid.”
“You did something stupid? That’s news to me.” Bucky jokes.
Steve shakes his head. “It was me.”
“Who you saw…”
Bucky scoffs. “That’s impossible.”
“We used the time stone travel back in time to track the tesseract. I told Tony it was part of the mission. I wanted to save you...but I just left you.” He chokes out.
Bucky breathes in and shakes his head. He takes all of that in. He’ll deal with the fact that what he thought was his imagination or at the largest stretch an angel was actually Steve.
He puts his hand to the back of Steve’s neck. “You couldn’t save me.” Bucky says. “It had to happen the way it happened.”
“But I abandoned you,” Steve looks at Bucky, tears still in his eyes.
“You didn’t. You gave me something to hold on to.” He pulls Steve’s head up to look at him. “Thank. You.”
Steve closes his eyes holding on to Bucky’s wrist.
“I love you forever, you know?” Bucky says.
Steve smiles. “I love you forever too.”
It was something they always said to each other as kids and teens, always a secret, always a whisper, but not anymore.
Bucky kisses the top of Steve’s head and breathes in. His thumb wipe away the tears on Steve’s face and he smiles brightly at him.
“Now I have to go start dinner or Sam’s going to kick my ass.”
“Sam’s coming over?” Steve perks up.
“Yup! Some sports game is on. I don’t know I never kept up with sports.”
“What? We used to go to baseball games all the time.” Steve objects in disbelief.
Bucky laughs. “I never went for the games.” He winks back at Steve.
He starts walking towards to the kitchen. “Oh yeah!” Bucky calls behind him to Steve. “And we’re retiring. I don’t know if I told you that or not.”
Steve laughs. Retirement was definitely the right way to go for both of them.
“Just close your eyes
The sun is going down
You'll be alright
No one can hurt you now
Come morning light
You and I'll be safe and sound”