War is chaos, but Steve and Bucky were born for it. It feels right to go out and fight. For Steve it’s because finally, finally , he can do something that makes a difference, no matter how many walls he has to smash through, no matter how many HYDRA bases have to be destroyed, no matter how little sleep he gets-- though going with no rest is no problem for Steve, because he’s strong now, and because he’s used to it after years and years of sleepless, fever-filled nights.
And it feels right for Bucky to gun people down for Steve, because Steve is pure, Steve is a flowing river, and Steve should never be tainted. If Steve were a ruthless killer like the military wanted him to be, the sun would burn dim and the world would be a cruel and merciless place, because Steve Rogers is light and kind and merciful incarnate.
Still, though. The both of them yearn for Brooklyn--they’re human , after all, even with all the chemicals they’ve been pumped with. They yearn for the days when they could lay in the afternoon sun, Bucky having just gotten back from some job he’d worked at for hours and hours to keep the both of them afloat and to get Steve the medicine he needs.
Because even though they were born and bred for war, even though they’ve no doubt the other will make it through, every time a mountain collapsed on Steve, Bucky’d be thrown into a panicked anger, gunning down men faster than should be humanly possible until Steve was dug out. The avalanches happened more than they should. The avalanches buried Steve more times than Bucky could take.
Because even though they were born and bred for war, even though they’ve no doubt the other will make it through, Steve’s heart clenched every time Bucky’d been lost to the riptide on the return from coast missions, his weary feet being pulled from him and his head being covered by the stinging, salty water. Steve would throw his shield and gear to the sand and jumped right in after, because he’d be damned if he lived in a world without Bucky. The riptides were vicious and took Bucky more times than they should. The riptides submerged Bucky more times than Steve could take.
And then. And then. And then the impossible happened. Bucky was taken from Steve, this time not by water but by train. Steve was taken from Bucky, this time not by rock but by metal. And for Steve the world dimmed, became hopeless and muddied, because Bucky was his sunlight, because Bucky’s smile filled Steve with forbidden hope, because Bucky Barnes was what made Steve see the most clearly.
And then the world really did blur as hot tears stung his cheeks.
“Bucky’s dead,” Steve said when Gabe found his way to the giant hole. “He’s dead and I didn’t do anything. I should have reached farther I should have jumped after him I should have I should have --”
“It’s not your fault,” Gabe said.
“How could you say that?” Steve’s eyes were red-rimmed and bloodshot and pitiful and, most of all, miserable. They were everything Steve Rogers was not
“Because it’s what he would have wanted me to say.” And Gabe’d said it with such surety that Steve felt a little less pitiful, but it wasn’t enough, couldn’t be enough to fix his broken heart.
And then he started to cry again, because his heart was beating steadily, the same as it had since the serum. It should be shattered.
His heart was still beating, even though Bucky’s wasn’t. It shouldn’t be beating. It had nothing to beat for anymore, but it still thrummed loud in Steve’s ears.
He just wished it was loud enough to drown out Bucky’s screams.
That night, Steve lay restless in his cot. It was cold. It was always cold, Steve realized, because the world is cold, and Bucky Barnes was the only source of warmth in this barren, icy land. Except Bucky is dead, now, and thoughts of him only bring more cold.
And then, recklessly, Steve decides he should feel cold, because he let Bucky fall. He deserves to fill the cold. So he closes his eyes and waits.
His dreams are cruel. It shows him a warm night in July. It’s Steve’s tenth birthday, and the stars are crystalline in the sky. Bucky’s laying next to him in the grass, and life is good, and this is why the dream is so cruel.
Because Bucky is beside him. Bucky had been beside him ever since they were eight years old. Bucky couldn’t ever be by Steve’s side again.
And it’s right about then, in his sleep, Steve Rogers realises he’d been in love with Bucky Barnes for longer than he can remember.
Once upon a time, Bucky Barnes was safe. Safe with Steve Rogers.
It seems odd, now, to think that a ninety-pound, scrawny, sick kid could make Bucky feel safe. But then again, there’s something to his smile, his determination, the light that surrounds him.
It is 2015, and the Winter Soldier, Bucky, James, is standing in the corner of Steven G. Rogers’ room, lurking in the shadows, body still but mind racing and soul yearning.
He doesn’t remember much, but he remembers he can always feel safe around Steven, Steve, Stevie, because Steve was always there for Bucky, and Steve would always be there for him.
Despite everything changing, nothing has changed.
That safety, that love, it couldn’t ever be taken away from Bucky; not by HYDRA, not by Pierce, not by Zola or Fenhoff or anyone. No one could take it, because it was too light, too pure for them to touch. They could make him forget it, but they could never make him unfeel it.
He goes to leave out the window, when he hears Steve start to thrash in his bed. Bucky pauses, and then he keeps climbing out. There’s nothing he can do.
But then Steve calls his name and Bucky freezes, his body halfway out.
And then Bucky knows what Steve is dreaming about. And then Bucky closes the window and walks to the side of Steve’s bed, kneeling down next to him. Tentatively, he grips Steve’s hands in his own, and Steve’s skin is warm under his hands, flesh and metal.
“Steve,” he says, his voice rough from disuse. “Stevie. It’s me. It’s alright. I’m here, I’ve got you, I’m…” he trails off, because he’s not fine.
Steve’s legs thrash, and even in the dim lighting Bucky can see his eyes fluttering behind his lids. “Finish it.”
And Bucky’s heart breaks about then, because he knows those words, he’d been haunted by them. He takes a deep breath. “I’m with you, Stevie. I’m with you ‘til the end of the line.”
And, miraculously, Steve quiets. Bucky waits for a few minutes, tense and ready for Steve’s nightmares to start again. But there is nothing but steady breathing and calm faces.
“Look at you, Rogers,” Bucky almost laughs, shoulders relaxing. “Cliche til the end.”
He sighs, standing. Steve’s hands slip from his, and a pang shoots through his chest. Bucky pauses, and then walks around the foot of the bed. He walks until he is in the exact middle of the window and Steve’s bed, and then he keeps walking, and he moves the covers and, silently, lays next to Steve.
His flesh hand under his head and his metal one wrapped around Steve’s torso, he closes his eyes.
It’s Steve’s tenth birthday, one of the few good memories he has. They’re lying in the grass, Steve’s head on his chest. The stars above them glimmer like diamonds in the navy-black sky, and a warm breeze blows over them.
Bucky Barnes is always at Steve’s side. Bucky Barnes will always be at Steve’s side. Bucky Barnes was born to be at Steve’s side.
And it’s then in his sleep that Bucky Barnes remembers something else. He remembers he’s in love with Steve Rogers, has been since he was sixteen.
Once in a lifetime, Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes belonged to each other.
Once in a lifetime, Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes belonged to each other again.