Bucky woke with a choked sob, eyes shooting open, hands fisting at the sheets. He was warm, overheating even. He looked over at the clock, the red numbers staring back at him.
3:47 in the morning. And Bucky Barnes couldn’t think of anything other than the clawing emptiness, filling his abdomen, crawling itself up his throat. He let out a ragged breath, willing his hands to let go of the sheets.
It was the dream again, the same dream that he had been having since returning to the land of the living six days earlier. It was a new twisted version of the same old fear. And as much as Bucky hated it, he couldn’t shake the feeling that soon, Steve would be gone for good.
Each inhalation felt like drowning, and before he knew it, he was standing in front of Steve’s door, staring at the handle with a small frown. He didn’t want to wake Steve up, hoping that his best friend was soundly asleep. But he had wandered here, and he needed to see him. He needed to be certain that he was there, solid body and soft smile. He knocked three times, holding his breath until he heard some shuffling from the other side of the door.
When the doorknob turned, Bucky let out his air before sucking in a desperate breath. Steve raised his eyebrows, staring at Bucky. When Bucky finally made eye contact, Steve’s expression changed.
“Hey, Buck. What’s wrong?” He asked, reaching his hand out, grabbing hold of Bucky’s, the concern resonating in Bucky’s chest. He shook his head, not sure what to say.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t… I had to see you,” he admitted, forcing himself to remain as impassive as possible.
“Buck, have you been crying?” Steve asked in response, wiping his free hand over his face, “Come in. Do you want to lay down? You look exhausted,”
“Thanks. Just what every man wants to hear,” Bucky responded, a weak attempt to lighten the mood. Steve didn’t say anything though, closing the door behind them and walking to the bed, sitting down.
“It’s nothing. It’s just a nightmare. I don’t even know why I’m here. It’s stupid,” Bucky rambled, shaking his head. But Steve just smiled softly, squeezing his hand.
“It’s obviously something or you wouldn’t be here. Do you want to talk about it?” He asked, and Bucky shook his head, feeling his throat tighten up. He was afraid to speak, not wanting to cry and worry Steve.
“Buck, I’m worried about you. You were gone for a long time, and from what I heard, it wasn’t exactly fun in the soul stone,” Steve said softly, shaking his head, “I just don’t want you to be going through this alone. I’m here. I’m right here with you, Buck. We’ve got each other, and neither of us has to do this alone anymore, okay? I don’t want you to do this alone,” he said, keeping his voice gentle.
“That’s the thing,” Bucky’s voice was barely above a whisper, “It’s a stupid nightmare, but it isn’t exactly a new nightmare,” he shook his head, avoiding eye contact.
“Is it Hydra again? They can’t get you, Buck. I won’t let them. No one can hurt you anymore,” he promised, and bucky chuckled bitterly, shaking his head.
It was such a bald-faced lie. Of course, someone could hurt him. He wasn’t free from the one thing that had been haunting him since he was a kid. He had endured torture and loss of free-will. He had been beaten. He had murdered. He could not escape that, but he had learned to live with it. But he could not live with the idea of losing his Steve.
“Not Hydra, Steve. I don’t have those nightmares that often anymore, and when I do, I have coping tools now. The technology isn’t the only amazing thing in Wakanda, the therapy is outstanding,” Bucky said quietly.
“Then what is it?” Steve asked, just trying to make sense of his friend’s pain.
“You,” he whispered. It’s always been you, punk.
They sit in silence for a moment, surrounded by the sounds of their breathing. Bucky could hear his heart beating in his chest.
“Buck, I’m right here,” Steve said, his voice sounding less certain, and Bucky’s eyes narrow.
“You stayed. In my dream, you went back, and you stayed. And I never saw you again,” Bucky said, voice tense. Steve was quiet for a moment before making eye contact with his best friend, and the emptiness subsided, being replaced by the sharpest tinge of pain he had ever felt, “You’re joking, right?”
“No, fuck you,” Bucky said, standing up, body rigid. He turned to storm out of the room, but Steve caught the metal of his wrist before he could leave.
“Buck, listen to me, okay?”
“No, Rogers. You listen,” Bucky sneered, turning around, staring at his best friend with wild eyes.
“When we were little, I had dreams about finding you in an alleyway, too broken and hurt to rescue. Dead. Cold. I couldn’t feel you breathing. I couldn’t save you,” Bucky began, his voice quiet and intense, “And then, when I enlisted, I had dreams about you dying from a fucking asthma attack while I was off at war. And then I had dreams about no one finding you in the alleyway. And then after you saved us, it was dreams about some Nazi scientist taking you and torturing you. Or killing you. And then, in the lucid moments, while they were stripping my memories from my brain, it was the look on your face when I fell. It was the thought of you being so reckless and alone that you finally got yourself killed. And then, when I got you back, It was that the evil of the week would kill you. And then it was that the U.S. government was going to lock you up and kill me. And then it was you dying while you were off being a secret avenger. And then it was the look on your face when I fucking died ,” By the end, Bucky’s hands were shaking, too many pent up emotions boiling under his skin.
“And then it was you, smiling in a time travel suit. It was you disappearing. And then, you were gone. Forever. No body, no closure. Just you, living your life in the twentieth century without me. While I was being tortured by Hydra. While I was murdering innocent people. And I was here. Alone. So no, Steve. I won’t listen to you because there is nothing that you can say to me that will make it hurt less, okay? It’s you, Steve. It’s always been you. And it’s always going to be you. You promised me, dammit! ”
And Bucky hadn’t noticed the tears falling from his blue eyes. He hadn’t noticed the crack in his voice or the shaking in his hands.
“ You promised me. My line isn’t over yet, Stevie,” he whispered, pleading with his best friend.
And then Steve’s arms were around him, hugging him tightly.
“Shhh, it’s okay, Buck. I know,” He whispered, rubbing small, reassuring circles on his back, “I never wanted to hurt you. And that’s all I’ve ever done, Buck. I’ve only ever hurt you. I just thought that if I-”
“Stop,” Bucky said, but as per usual, Steve didn’t listen.
“I thought that if I left, maybe you’d have a chance. That maybe, without me here to mess everything up, you’d be able to live the life you always wanted. I figured you’d stay in Wakanda, settled in the countryside with a pretty dame, maybe have some kids. You were always so good with kids. And you wouldn’t have to worry about me. And I’d be okay, and you’d be okay. And-”
“Jesus Christ, Steve. Stop,” Bucky said, pulling away from Steve’s grip, staring at him with furrowed brows, “God, you think there’s any way I could be happy without you? You think fucking off to 1940 will solve all of my problems, Steve? I’m with you till the end of the line, pal. But if you derail the fucking train, that gets a little difficult,”
“I just thought that we would both get a shot at the life we had dreamed of,”
“I’m going to ask you two question. And I don’t want you to ramble on, alright? I want you to think really hard before you even open that goddamn mouth,” Bucky says, suddenly sounding as exhausted as he apparently looked.
“Will you be happier in the past with Peggy than you could be here? Here, where you have an entire family standing behind you. Here with me?” Bucky asked, and he waited in the silence for what had to be at least three minutes.
“I just thought I’d try to get one of those lives that Tony and Natasha always told me to try,” He said tensely, and Bucky sighed, nodding.
“Okay, that didn’t answer my question,” he said, softer that time and Steve shrugged, shaking his head.
“I don’t know, Buck. She was the love of my life, and I didn’t even get to spend any of it with her. And now, I can go back, and I can give her that dance I promised. And we could try to live that storybook life,” Bucky nodded, waiting for Steve to get to the point, “It isn’t that I think I would be happier there. It’s that I could have the one thing that never seemed possible until now,”
“So that’s a no, then? You wouldn’t be happier, just different?”
“I suppose,” they stand there in silence for another minute, “You had another question,”
“Do you really think that I would be happier without you?”
This question is dangerous, they both know. And Steve shakes his head slowly, “If you showing up at my door at 4:00 a.m. after having recurring nightmares about me abandoning you, seems unlikely,” he said, and Bucky sighs, closing his eyes.
“I’m tired, Steve. I’m tired of worrying. I’m tired of living without you, okay? And I try to not be a selfish man, my Ma raised me better than that. But I’m going to say this, and it’s incredibly selfish, but I think that after all of this, I deserve one selfish thing,” Bucky said, staring at Steve intently.
“Choose me. Stay with me.”
The two stare at each other for a while, each analyzing the other’s expression. After what felt like a small eternity, Steve nodded.
“Okay,” Steve said simply.
And for the briefest moment, Bucky felt confusion, having not expected him to agree.
“Really. I promised you, didn’t I? I’m with you till the end of the line, pal,” and then Bucky was beaming, a fresh set of tears falling from his eyes. He hadn’t felt this vulnerable in decades, and it was the most refreshing feeling.
“Our line isn’t finished yet,” Bucky reminded him, pulling Steve back against his chest in a bone-crushing hug. Steve laughed, nodding his head.
“Come on, let’s get some sleep, okay?” he said, pulling Bucky towards the bed, slipping under the plush comforter, watching the darker haired man follow suit. He stared at bucky for a few moments, drinking him in.
“Buck? Do you think a person can have more than one love of their life?” Steve asked, and Bucky thought for a moment before answering.
“Yeah, especially old men like us,” He said, a smile ghosting over his lips, “Peggy was the love of your first life. And she would want you to move on, Steve. She would want you to be happy,” He said, and Steve nodded, pondering that.
“I’m lucky though. Maybe the luckiest man in the world,” He said, and Steve gave him a quizzical glance, “I’ve had a lot of second chances with the love of my life. But I don’t intend to waste this one,” He whispered, feeling braver than normal.
“Oh,” Steve exhaled, cheeks tinged pink. He had always thought that Bucky saw him as a little brother, someone to be protected, someone to fuss over.
“I told you, Stevie. It was always you,”
“But all the dames? You used to have a new girl every weekend,” Steve argued, brows furrowed, and Bucky just shook his head.
“Well, it obviously wasn’t ideal at the time. It was easier to ignore the feelings than to deal with them. Especially when I left. I would have done anything for you, punk. I still would,” he whispered fondly, and Steve reached over to brush Bucky’s hair off his forehead.
“I think I want to change my answer,” Steve said, and Bucky’s face dropped.
“I wouldn’t be happier in the past. Clocks go forward for a reason, right? I don’t need to go back in time to get myself a life; I just need to live the one I have as well as I can,” He explained, and Bucky’s fear washed away.
“I love you, you know that?”
“Yeah, Buck. I love you too,”