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Gaze Upon the Glass (a war poem remix)

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There was a glass of water on Pietro's bedside table. One of the modern plastic ones, complete with a lid and a straw to help keep the water fresh.

But Pietro was unconscious on the bed, with wires and tubes extending out everywhere. He'd been that way for weeks, first as he healed from being perforated by Ultron's bullets, and then afterwards when the wounds had become infected.

He had no need to drink.

Steve stood in the doorway to the room where Pietro lay; his sister sitting a quiet vigil by his side. He'd gone right to Pietro's hospital bed as soon as he and Sam had come back from their latest reconnaissance mission, snagging a coffee for Wanda along the way. He'd intended to go right in, to try to give her comfort with his presence the way that Bucky had done when his mother was dying. But he couldn't take his eyes away from the glass of water.

Pietro was so still. He was so still. Steve hadn't known Pietro very long, but he remembered his quickness; his speed. The way that he seemed to be moving even when he wasn't. It seemed incredibly unnatural for him to be lying like that. Like death had already claimed him.

And suddenly Steve felt like he was back in his mother's room at the Sea View Tuberculosis hospital on Staten Island. Normally they'd never have let him go see her, but she was dying and everyone knew it. They'd sent for him; an act of mercy on the part of his mother's nurse to allow her to see her boy one last time. An act of respect from one caregiver to another.

Bucky had come with him and it was his quiet strength that had gotten him through the visit. His mother had been in bed like Pietro was. She was terribly thin, wasted to almost nothing from the ravages of the disease. Her lush blonde hair had turned to a faint, brittle yellow and her skin was so pale he could see the blue of her veins through it. He could count the thready beat of her pulse in the hollow of her throat.

She'd had a glass of water by her bedside, too.

He must have made a noise because Wanda turned her head sharply to look at him. "Steve?"

"Hey," Steve said, forcing himself to smile. He went further into the room.

Wanda flashed him a brief smile in return. "Hey."

He handed her the paper cup of coffee he'd brought for her, resting his hand on her shoulder. She took the cup with one hand, placing her other over Steve's. "Thank you."

He smiled down at her. "I thought you could use the coffee."

"And the company?" She raised her eyebrows as she looked up at him.

Steve glanced at the glass of water, trying to shake the image of the way his mother looked as she died. He moved to the chair beside Wanda and sat, stretching his legs out in front of him. He was still in his dark blue uniform that he'd worn on his mission with Sam. He and Sam had been out since pre-dawn three days before. Despite the thoroughness of their search, they'd found no trace of Bucky. He was sore, exhausted and disheartened, but Wanda didn't need to deal with any of that. "I could stay."

Her smile was so grateful that Steve had to glance away. He pretended to be focused on his filthy boots. "I've tracked mud everywhere."

"He will not mind," Wanda said. Her eyes filled up with tears. She took a sip of coffee to cover it and Steve pretended not to notice.

After a moment she seemed to get her emotions under control. "You really are filthy," she said, apparently just noticing his uniform. "Where were you?"

"Eastern Europe." Steve's smile was rueful. "Helping to settle the Sokovian refugees." It wasn't a total lie. Even though he and Sam had spent the majority of time trying to find Bucky, they had taken a day to lend a hand and to document what supplies were needed by the International Red Cross. It had been on Stark's request.

"That is kind," Wanda said.

"We made the problem. Should be up to us to fix it."

Wanda shook her head. "No. I made the problem. I made it when I was poking around in Tony's mind. I put the idea there. He would not have built Ultron except for me."

"You never intended for that to happen."

"It does not matter what I intended. I must now live with what I have done." She pressed her lips together, but a few tears still managed to escape.

Suddenly, painfully, Steve was reminded of himself, trying to hold it together while he sat in a bombed out bar in London. He'd never intended for Bucky to fall to his death when the Howlies went to capture Zola, but that's exactly what had happened. Even though he now knew Bucky was still alive, the knowledge did nothing to change how devastated he felt at that moment. He could remember every second of the immense grief he'd felt with the total clarity provided by Erskine's serum; and how that feeling didn't budge at all in those few weeks before he flew the Valkyrie into the ice.

He'd never intended to wake up from that, either.

"You didn't do this," Steve said finally. "It was Ultron who destroyed Sokovia. It was Ultron who shot Pietro. The moment you realized what he was, you stopped working with him." He put his hand on her arm. "That part counts, too."

One side of her mouth curled up. "You are a very good man, Steven. To say things like that."

Steve quirked up his own mouth. "I even believe them."

This time her smile was slightly more genuine before it faded, and Steve decided to take it as a small victory.

He glanced back to the glass of water and forced himself to look away. There was another memory nudging at the back of his mind; something else the glass was reminding him of. He swallowed. "How is he?"

Wanda turned her attention back to her brother. "Not good. The infection is still there. Doctor Cho says its spread to his blood."

The infection had started almost as soon as Dr. Cho had taken Pietro out of the cradle. They'd been treating it with antibiotics but clearly it wasn't getting better. "I'm sorry."

Wanda bent her head in acknowledgement of Steve's words. "Doctor Cho has given him a new antibiotic. It's experimental. She says if it doesn't work there's nothing else they can do." She was still looking at Pietro but the pain in her eyes was obvious, as was the underlying meaning of what she'd said. If Pietro didn't respond to this medicine he would die.

"When…when will we know?" Steve asked. He left the if he'll live part unsaid.

"By tomorrow morning," Wanda said quietly. "She says he should recover if he survives tonight."

"I'm sorry," Steve said again, the words feeling wholly inadequate in the face of Wanda's silent anguish.

His eyes darted again to the glass of water on Pietro's bedside table.

And suddenly he remembered.

He'd been only about nine years old. Small and sickly with a mouth that wrote cheques his body couldn't cash. But he'd already met Bucky by then; his destiny already in motion even though he'd had no idea of what the future would hold.

But it was only the past on his mind as he cuddled with his mother on her bed. Her arm was around his shoulder as she read to him, tears in her voice and moisture on her cheek. She was reading to him from a book of poems from the First World War. The War his father had fought and died in. The reason why all he knew of his father was a sepia photo of a handsome man in uniform and a faint memory of large hands brushing his cheek.

She was reading him a poem by a man named Wilfred Gibson, who'd never seen active combat but wrote like he had. In the poem, the narrator was staring at an untouched glass of water by his dead comrade's bedside. It had been given to him the night before when he'd still been living. When there'd still been hope.

Maybe that was why Wanda had put the glass there for Pietro, too, or his mother's nurse, so many years ago. It was the reason why he and Sam were still looking for Bucky, after all. Even though they had no evidence that he was himself, or whole, or even alive. Looking for Bucky was a desperate act of hope, but one that Steve would keep doing until all hope was irrevocably gone.

He would keep pouring glasses of water until there was no water left.

"Pietro's a fighter," Steve said. "I'm sure you know that. Better than anyone."

Wanda glanced at him. "I can still feel him. Through our link. It's faint, but it's there. he's there. I can feel him."

"He's a fighter," Steve repeated. "And he knows you're here. Waiting for him. He'll come back." Like Bucky, Steve thought. He had to believe it.

"I hope you're right," Wanda said.

"He'll come back," Steve said again. "I know it."

They sat together in companionable silence, waiting for the morning.

END