Steve hadn’t seen or heard from Bucky in almost a month.
He’d gotten into a huge fight with Tony when he heard they’d ganged up on Bucky, tracked him down to the place he was working and got him so agitated he’d had some kind of PTSD episode. Steve had gone to Mr. Lee’s Lucky Red Wonton himself, but the owner had regretfully informed him Bucky had resigned.
To tell the truth, Steve was mostly mad at himself. He loved Bucky more than anyone in the world but couldn’t seem to stop letting him down.
So once again Bucky was in the wind and Steve didn’t know how to find him. He could be anywhere in the world, or right down the block, and he’d only come back if and when he was good and ready. Steve felt like all the progress they’d made was lost now. There probably wasn’t anywhere Bucky could go where he’d really feel safe.
Someone tugged on the hem of Steve’s Captain America t-shirt, derailing his depressing train of thought, and he looked down. A little girl with crooked pigtails and a tear-stained face looked back up at him.
“Mr. Captain? I can’t find my momma.”
Steve shook off his dark mood and gave the girl a smile. “Well, let’s see if we can find her.”
He swung the girl up on his shoulders and she fisted both hands in his hair.
“Stark,” he said, activating his earbud. “I’ve got a lost girl here. What’s your name, sweetheart?”
Copy that, Cap.
One of Tony’s drones zipped past, JARVIS’s voice booming out of the speakers. “Would the mother of Rosa Alvarez please report to the Red Cross tent?”
Steve walked in that direction, and listened to Rosa give a detailed account of everything she’d done at the festival so far that day.
United We Stand had been put together by the Avengers and spearheaded by Tony as a way to raise money for families who’d lost their homes after the Battle of New York. All the funds raised were matched by Stark Enterprises and dispersed to families in need. Despite the cooler temperatures as November transitioned to December, the turnout was even bigger than last year.
Central Park had been transformed into a huge open-air market, complete with carnival rides, a petting zoo, live music from local musicians, and exhibitions from a wide array of dance studios, martial arts studios, and local artists of every stripe. Steve could’ve done without the mimes, though.
“Who do we have here?” Bruce asked when Steve and Rosa ducked under the white tent with the big red cross on it.
“This is Rosa. She’s waiting for her mom.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Rosa.” Bruce solemnly shook her hand, which made her giggle. “Would you like some hot cocoa while you wait?”
Steve left the little girl in Bruce’s capable hands and stepped back outside. He scanned the crowd, ostensibly to see if there was any trouble brewing – last year a drunken brawl got started between two guys who seemed to want to beat each other in a game of ‘my suffering was worse than yours’ – but he was really looking for a familiar ball cap.
“Everything okay?” Sam materialized out of the crowd. He was wearing a light jacket with a falcon painted on the back of it. Steve knew he had his wings stashed somewhere close by in case he needed them.
“Do you think he’s here?”
“I don’t know, man. Big crowd like this? He might find it off-putting.”
Steve sighed. Sam was right. Sam was always right. It was an annoying quality.
“Almost time for your thing,” Sam said. “You still up for it?”
“Yeah. I’m good.”
“You might want to tell that to your face.” Sam clapped him on the shoulder and then he was gone.
Steve’s thing was the 5k run/walk, held in memory of everyone who’d died during the Chitauri’s thwarted invasion. It was the last big event of the day, until the sun went down and the concert started. Tony had somehow arranged a one-time reunion of Space Monkeys, and the tickets had sold out in less than ten minutes. They were playing for free, their contribution to the festival.
There was a small dais set up at the start/finish line and Tony, who seemed to be everywhere at once, was there to make a speech.
“I want to thank you for signing up for the second annual United We Stand Memorial 5k. I know I’m not just speaking for myself when I say we’ll never forget the lives that were lost here in our city that tragic day. Our friends, our families, people we saw every day but never took the time to get to know. Their lives mattered. Their deaths matter. And as long as we’re here to remember them, they’ll continue to live on inside each and every one of us.”
A cheer went up from the crowd. A lot of the participants were wearing shirts emblazoned with the likenesses of the people they were there to memorialize, and some were carrying flags and banners as well.
“Without further ado, our very own Captain America will kick things off. Cap?”
Steve stood on the line facing the crowd. “Go, go, go!” he yelled at the top of his lungs.
The runners took off, following the marked path, and the walkers moved at a more sedate pace behind them. Steve stayed somewhere in the middle to keep an eye on things.
There were regular aid stations set up along the route, offering water and Gatorade. Cameras had been set up at the finish line to take a picture of everyone who crossed it with their finish time, and every participant would receive a swag bag.
Steve assisted a runner who’d twisted her ankle, and had a long talk with an elderly woman in a wheelchair about her time in the USO during World War II. She remembered attending one of the shows Steve performed at before he’d joined up with the Howling Commandos.
“You may have felt foolish, but you gave hope and enjoyment to a lot of people,” she said.
“I’m glad to hear that,” Steve replied honestly.
There were fewer and fewer people left who were old enough to have been at one of those shows, or fought in the war. Steve ached for Bucky, who’d been right there beside him fighting the good fight.
Once all the runners had crossed the finish line, Steve hung out to welcome in the walkers with high fives. There were a lot of families with young children, and older people who were fit but not quite up for a run.
Cap, Clint said over the earpiece. We’ve got someone coming in.
“They need assistance?”
Nope. Looks like they already got some.
Steve waited expectantly, and then around the bend in the trail came a man whose spine was so curved he was nearly bent in half. He was clutching a cane in one hand and had the other on the arm of…of…
“Bucky,” Steve breathed.
James Buchanan Barnes, showing up at the tail end of the 5k and helping a complete stranger make his way across the finish line. He was wearing that same ball cap and ratty green jacket, but he’d shaved. All his attention was on the old man.
“…and that’s why you shouldn’t mix tequila with mescaline.”
“That’s very good advice,” Bucky said. “Hey, look. You made it.”
They crossed the finish line together, and the old man patted him on the arm.
“Thank you, James. And good luck to you.”
“Same to you, Mr. Fitch.” The old man shuffled off with one of the race attendances and only then did Bucky look at Steve, uncertainty written on his face like a billboard. “Hey.”
“It’s good to see you,” Steve said. “I didn’t…I thought you…”
“I needed some time.” Bucky sounded apologetic, but he continued to hold Steve’s gaze. He seemed different somehow. Less skittish.
“I’m sorry,” Steve said, though he wasn’t sure what he was apologizing for. Maybe everything.
“Don’t be an idiot.”
The exasperated tone was so familiar, so Bucky, that Steve took an involuntary step forward. Bucky didn’t back up, didn’t look for an escape route, and so Steve took another step, and another, until they were almost standing toe to toe.
“I missed you,” he said. Not just for the last month, he wanted to clarify, but for all the years since Bucky fell from that train even though Steve had been on ice for most of them. He’d missed every laugh, every cocky grin, every raucous joke. He’d missed having someone in his life who knew him from before the serum, when he was just a skinny kid picking fights in alleys.
There was so much more Steve wanted to say, but Bucky was nodding solemnly like he understood.
“I missed you too.” The truth of it shone out of his eyes. Bucky held out his right hand. “You wanna go someplace? To talk?”
Steve’s breath caught in his throat, and he reached out slowly, not wanting to spook Bucky. Their fingers slotted together so easily, their hands curling around each other like they’d done it a thousand times. In Steve’s fantasies they had.
“Yeah, Buck. That would be great.”
Looks like Father Time and Old Man Winter have a date, Tony said over the earpiece. Maybe you should invite him back to your place to look at your sketches, Cap. Isn’t that how you old timers made your move back in the day?
“Fuck you, Stark,” Steve said pleasantly.
Language! Tony tried to sound scandalized, but he was clearly too amused too pull it off. You gonna kiss your boyfriend with that mouth?
“A real gentleman doesn’t kiss and tell.” Steve plucked the earpiece out of his ear and stuffed it in his pocket. “Where do you want to go?”
“I know a place we can get some great Chinese food,” Bucky replied. “If you want.”
“I just want to be with you.” Steve figured he had nothing to lose by being honest. There was no way for him to know how long Bucky would be around this time, and he didn’t want to waste a moment of their time together playing coy or pretending to be someone he wasn’t. “That’s all I ever wanted.”
Bucky flushed, but his fingers tightened around Steve’s. He tugged gently and Steve followed, back across the finish line and out of the park. Their future was still uncertain, but Steve felt like they’d taken an important step.
Maybe Bucky had finally come home.