Imagine this: if Steven Grant Rogers had lived in a world where Hydra didn’t exist. Where Dr. Abraham Erskine never came up with the super-soldier serum, never brought it to the US.
Imagine this: James Buchanan Barnes goes to war. He comes home, eventually, a very different man than he was when he left (as all the soldiers were).
Imagine this: Steve Rogers is still frail and ill, still only alive to see his best friend’s return by sheer force of will.
Imagine this: Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes, watching each others’ backs and lips, wanting, wishing, stolen kisses, pretending they’re not looking, pretending they’re okay, they’re not both dying in their own little ways, pretending that Steve’s going to live long enough to fulfill their childhood dream of marrying a pair of sisters, living in pretty little houses, side by side, raising their children together, growing old together, pretending not to still be in love together (it never occurs to them that they could have anything else, in these future fantasies of theirs).
Imagine this: only one of them lives that long. They both knew it was coming. Steve Rogers’ lungs seize up and his heart gives out, and those lips that Bucky Barnes had watched for so long turn blue and still at the tender age of twenty-nine. Bucky Barnes proposes to his girlfriend a year later. They are married and living in the suburbs before eighteen months have passed since Steve Rogers died.
Imagine this: she thinks she knows what she is getting into. She understands, though they never say it, that Bucky Barnes already gave his heart away, and she’ll never have it all to herself. Bucky Barnes tries with all his might to love his wife the way she deserves, but he never quite succeeds. When they move in, the house next door is empty. Bucky Barnes never quite forgives their neighbors for occupying it. He refuses to think about why.
Imagine this: the children of James Buchanan Barnes grow up knowing their parents aren’t perfectly happy. They don’t know who this Stevie woman is that keeps coming in between their mother and their father. They don’t know why their dad hasn’t stopped loving a woman they’re pretty sure is dead, all their information on the apparent affair gathered at the crack beneath their parents’ bedroom door when they ought to be asleep and their parents are fighting a little louder than they think.
Imagine this: the Barnes children begin to grow old, graduate high school, go to college, leave the house. The sodomy laws are repealed in New York, and Bucky Barnes cries alone in the garage. Nobody sees him. Nobody hears him.
Imagine this: Mrs. Barnes sits across the kitchen table the day after their youngest child graduates college and moves out for good. Silent, she slides the divorce papers towards her husband. He doesn’t ask her why. They both know the reason. He signs them without speaking. Their children don’t understand. Their parents don’t explain (but when they aren’t around, the Barnes children whisper to each other of that Stevie woman, and wonder with some anger how their father could marry their mother when he was still so clearly in love with someone else).
Imagine this: it is July 24, 2011. Same-sex marriage is legal in New York.
Imagine this: it is July 24, 2011, and James Buchanan Barnes dies with his service pistol in his mouth, tears on his cheeks, the day's newspaper on the floor next to him, and a worn, much-handled photograph in his hand. In it, he is young, bright-eyed, in uniform, obviously just shipping out to war. He has his arm draped over the shoulder of scrawny young man with an artist’s hands, a weak heart, and an indomitable will in his eyes. On the back of the photo, in faded print, is the location (Stark Expo), the date (1943), and two names (James Barnes and Steven Rogers). Someone has crossed out the names, and in equally faded ink, scrawled corrections beneath them (Bucky and Steve).
Imagine this: the Barnes children have never seen this photo before. Their mother obviously has, and she almost seems to cry when they ask the obvious question (is this the Stevie you and Dad always fought about when you thought we couldn't hear?).
Imagine this: Bucky finally gets to see Steve again.
Imagine this: there is blood on the hands of James Buchanan Barnes, but not so much that he feels unworthy of the man he’s loved since they were two stubborn boys from Brooklyn.
Imagine this: when they meet again, Steven Grant Rogers finally has a body to match the heart and the will that overflowed him in life (that killed him in life, as Bucky always knew they would).
Imagine this: Steve and Bucky are happy again, and nobody can hurt them when they kiss.