The lukewarm coffee in his hands sits bitter on his tongue despite the liberal splash of creamer blooming within it's depths. He drinks the unappetizing brew to do something, yet the feeling of guilt and overall ache lurks as a constant shadow that he just can’t shake. A record plays in the background, an old Glenn Miller track. It’s soft and sways like the breeze of a too-warm evening in his living room. It does nothing to chase away the shadow.
Steve has holed himself inside his apartment, only leaving for a few groceries and several morning runs around the monuments. He even gets up while it’s still dark to avoid Sam.
He avoids everyone these days.
Natasha has called him a few times but he lets them go straight to voicemail. Sam’s stopped by twice but he holds his breath until the knocks stop. Fury has left him alone along with most of everyone else. Even Tony left a voicemail; but that was weeks ago.
His coffee drains sip by sip until the grains slosh around the bottom. He remembers a memory, one that happened in the midst of rough crusades during the war as they traveled from Hydra base to Hydra base. When the coffee was gone, and the grains were left, Bucky would just fill his mug with a bit of hot water and christen it as a ‘second cup of coffee’. He’d smile and drink the grainy liquid, no sign of a grimace on his face, just a slight tightening of the jaw.
They were so happy. Both working for the greater good.
He sets his mug down and closes his eyes, praying to God. It’s been awhile, but he hopes someone is listening. He wishes Buck was listening. Steve prays for guidance, ways to shed his pain, protection for Bucky, and the light to get him out of the darkness.
Steve goes to bed that night with quick healing wounds on his hands and the shattered remains of a mug littering the bottom of the wall, it's contents a sickly shadow of fingers climbing the wall.
Steve hopes this run can clear his head. The sky is dark and the only light comes from the capital lights. They paint the landscape in brush strokes of fog and blurred light, so achingly beautiful in the darkness. The cold wind breaks against his face while the tears fall and blow away. His lip quivers with every fast paced breath and his legs ache in time with his heartbeat. The pain makes him feel nearly alive. Nearly. Yet its so much different than the walking death consuming his every hour.
Every minute. Every second.
He thinks about Peggy. All her glory faded into a diseased mind, nearly forgotten in the wake of Demi-Gods and superheroes. Steve almost loved her, he fooled himself into it for so long. Even in his supposed last moments, she was there, but in his thoughts? It was Bucky's smiling face strapped to that table.
He should have jumped from that train and found him. If only he’d known.
Steve stops running and turns to grab the peeling railing. He looks out across the small lake at the Jefferson Memorial with it's white facade luminescent against bright lights. But it’s blurred from the onslaught of tears and he feels his body quake with it. He thought he was stronger than this. He buries his face into the folds of his arms and weeps. A part of him died that day on the train, he just wasn't expecting it to be resurrected like this. It was supposed to fall into the cavern of those mountains and now he's lost it like scattered sand on the breeze.
After a few minutes, a sensation of eyes prickles his neck. Its three am on a Tuesday, only the lost souls without a home or the broken ones who find solution at the bottom of a glass are only to be found. Slowly, he lifts his head and turns, barely catching the glint of metal before it’s gone. He fully turns around and watches a figure run at near inhuman speed off into the night.
And with it, his hope.
A few more days pass and Steve makes it habit to run at the same time every morning. Just in case. He keeps his eyes peeled whenever he leaves the house. With every shine against chrome, his heart beats a little faster; it’s disappointed every time.
His apartment always plays music now, to drown out the silence. To drown out the guilt. He plays through his record collection and the needle of the player rests when he does.
Out of the blue, he decides to call Sam.
“Steve! Man, I came by your place a few times but you weren’t there. Everything ok?” Sam asks, an edge of worry coloring his tone. The emotions are warranted since he’s been the one avoiding everyone after all. He’d feel the same if the reverse were true.
“Just trying to hold it all together,” He replies quietly. He sits at the dining room table and fidgets with a pencil. He digs his short even nails into the soft wood creating gently curved lines.
“Any news about SHIELD? I’ve been focusing my attentions down at the VA hospital,” Sam asks.
Steve replies in silence.
Sam sighs over the phone, “I even got Stark to fix my wings,” he laughs hesitantly. Steve just stares at the table.
“You can't just shut yourself away forever Steve. You’re Captain America.”
“That doesn’t really matter now does it?” He seethes. He tightens his fist and cracks it down on the table. A small fissure opens in the table. Wonderful.
Sam hisses before digging into him. “You know what? I’m coming over there right now and you’d better open that god damn door. Got it?” Sam orders. He can hear the man shuffling around, probably putting on clothes and shoes.
“Door will be unlocked,” he answers, hanging up abruptly.
Sam arrives within fifteen minutes. He’s only wearing sweatpants, running shoes, a blue v-neck and a watch. His face is serious as he sits down on the couch. Steve joins him and cradles his head in his hands with his elbows on his knees.
“It started before the war was even a thought in the minds of America. It’s always been us. We grew up together with barely two dimes to rub together, but we always managed to figure it out. Even after my Ma died, he took me in. I didn’t even take the couch,” and he sighs admitting something that has hung heavy on his heart for a while, “neither did he.” He thinks back to that time, just for a moment. Soft sheets from a decade of washings. Pokey goose-down pillows. Watching Bucky fall asleep in degrees, watching the weariness of borderline-poverty wiped away.
Sam blinks his eyes and brightens subtly with a soft smile, “I always thought it was Peggy, but it never was, was it?” It's always been Buck, he's just been too blind to see it. That day on the bridge gave him sight for the first time.
It might’ve been easier if he’d always stayed blind.
“My feelings, back then, were seen as-as perversions. I had no choice but to keep them to myself.” Why risk losing his friendship? He could have been content being unaware of the depth of his feelings, of being always a touch away from what he really wanted. He could have handled it, but definitely not now. Not after what he knows.
“Wait, so despite this bed sharing business, nothing actually happened?” Sam asked skeptically.
“I’m assuming he never knew.”
“Positive.” There had been accidental touches or sudden mornings where they woke up in a tangle of limbs, but they never spoke about it. Even when they traveled across Europe to each Hydra plant, they never spoke of it, even when they woke up cold together in the same tent. His breath an even tempo on Bucky’s neck, lips a hairbreadths away from his skin.
“Is he the reason you’ve kept yourself romantically closed off since being defrosted? Not to pry or embarrass you or anything,” Sam smiled gently. Steve even lifted the corners of his mouth for a brief moment.
“More or less. It’s not as if dating ninety year olds are an option,” Steve laughs off, but it falls short. It's not genuine. The fact of the matter is, he's different than everyone else. His tastes, upbringing, and basically everything that made him human is different. It would be impossible to fully connect with someone. And his impossible is out there somewhere walking around god knows where.
“We can go find him,” Sam offers, straightening, smile wiped clean. Steve looks up and appreciates the loyalty glinting like a beacon in his dark eyes.
“I saw him…I-I think.” He says quietly. He looks down at his hands and picks at his cuticle beds.
“On my nightly run,” He replies, folding his arms and rubbing the skin just above his elbow.
“That’s why I’ve felt my running confidence improve over the past week." Sam jokes. Steve laughs but it doesn't reach his eyes.
“I forgot it was my job to beat you into the dust.” They smile at each other but the grins slowly slip away.
“What are you going to do?” Sam asks softly.
“I’m going to wait for him.”
It’s all he can do really.
It’s another cold night and he’s alone. The chill of it surrounds him, but it doesn't penetrate his hot skin. He entertains himself with his thoughts. Well, not exactly entertaining, more like ripping a knife into the meat of his psyche. Each slice another memory, a thought or a feeling. They bleed and he revels in the pain. It still makes him feel alive.
The hole in his heart is so empty. It was manageable when Bucky was gone entirely. Now, It’s just a barely filled hole on the threat of collapse. It’s spackled over thinly with metallic silver paint and a red star.
He runs ten laps before he sees him, standing tall and menacing, in the middle of the running path. He’s got a baseball cap on, long stringy hair coated with oil that falls in a curtain, and a beard that’s grown in by a few weeks. He stops and stares at him. Steve takes in every line, curve, and edge, hungry for everything.
There is only the silence between them and the distant sounds of cars and running water.
“I saw you the other day,” Is the only thing he can say. Bucky walks closer and his eyes stare lifeless, yet a hint of curiosity bobs like a buoy in their depths. “Where have you been Bucky?” He desperately wants to know.Steve's face betrays his pain and longing. The pain rolls in waves along his nerves and he drowns in it; in Him.
“Don’t call me that!” Bucky snarls. His eyebrows draw in, wild and clouded with confusion while his mouth twists into a scowl.
“W-What do you want me to call you?” Steve asks gently. The Winter Soldier levels him with his nearly empty eyes.
“James,” He offers stiffly. Steve’s called him that only a handful of times, probably four times at most in their entire lives. It sounds strange even on the tongue of his mind. Yet it still feels wrong.
“Why? What’s wrong with Bucky?” His friend flinches and looks down. His hands are stubbornly stuck in the pockets of his hoodie, fidgeting with the fabric inside.
“It’s too informal. Nicknames dictate familiarity,” He replies mechanically. Oh Bucky, what did they do to you?
“Were family Bu-James, always have been.” Steve lifts his hand and places it on the muffled metal shoulder. Bucky ducks out of the touch and keeps a distance between them.
“He died. I’m all that’s left,” Bucky mutters, looking him hard in the eyes. Images assault him of Bucky sailing down through the wintry mountains for the thousandth time in the past few weeks. The pain hits him like a gun shot each and every time.
“Part of you still lives though.”
“I have the memories of a dead man with engineered memories of someone who never existed. You tell me what I am and who I am Rogers,” he accused, challenging the tender thread slowly binding them together again.
“Let me help you figure that out,” he insists desperately, “I’m with you till the end of the line." He drops the phrase, waiting for the other man to bite the bait.
“I remember saying that, when did I say that?” Bucky questions softly as he steps a bit closer. Yet the irritated expression twisting his face seems to soften a degree. Steve cant help but feel a bit of fondness.
“It was right after my Ma died. You offered to let me live with you. You were there for me.” He brings his hand up again and lays it on Bucky’s cold hard shoulder. He doesn't duck away this time. He takes his thumb and starts slowly rubbing back and forth. He can feel the ridges of interlocking metal beneath the sweatshirt.
“Now I’m going to be there for you this time. Let's go home,” Steve orders gently.
Bucky sighs, “Alright.”
Steve smiles genuinely for the first time in days. Probably a month.