artwork by fait-hunter
Steve stares at the doors leading to his—what should be his apartment building. They’re all glass, framing painted yellow, and he’s never seen them before in his life. He forms fists in his pockets, and the grooves of his apartment key bite into his right palm.
He’s pretty sure if he crossed the street and tried his key on that lock, it wouldn’t work.
The realization is, well, crushing. He should’ve seen it coming, he really should’ve—‘never seen it before in my life’ could about sum up his day—but…getting here, getting home had kept him moving. It’d given him a goal. Now…
Well, now he might have to face the fact he has no earthly idea where he is.
According to the signs, to the streets, he’s in New York. According those signs on those streets along the route he’d taken, he’d gone from Chambers and Broadway across the bridge home to Brooklyn.
But this wasn’t his Brooklyn. He’d walked hours and hours, hoping beyond hope, betting on the off chance that his apartment would at least still be where he left it, and he’d lost that bet. It’d carried him this far and now he just.
Steve has nothing.
Steve presses his back into bricks of the building what used to be a bank—looks like it is one again, though the big ‘CHASE’ logo sure has changed—and tries to keep his head on his shoulders.
He’s not sure, maybe he’s just cracked. That would explain it, right? Not seeing things how they are, seeing—seeing something impossible instead, that made him a nut, right? What was the alternative; that he’d woken up in the gutter somewhere, not with a few screws knocked lose, but genuinely, honestly, actually in an alternate version of New York? And the cars really were sleeker and quieter and the signs were bright and vivid and moving and everyone had—Christ, he doesn’t know—walkie-talkies the shape of sliced bread to devote their attention to.
He squeezes his eyes shut, pinches the crooked bridge of his nose with his forefinger and thumb and tries not to think about how fucking insane that sounds, even in his own head. Even in his own head, he couldn’t reconcile all this. Did that happen to crazies? Was it normal, to know you couldn’t really be seeing what you were seeing, and just be stuck seeing it anyways?
What was he going to do?
"If this is a bad dream," he mutters to himself, "I wish I’d just wake up already.”
Earlier that morning, Steve had woken up to a coughing fit. That wasn’t all that unusual, he just didn’t usually wake up to a coughing fit in the middle of an unfamiliar alley, half buried in trash. The most logical conclusion was he’d been out drinking. Now, he hadn’t remembered drinking, let alone could recall what would possess him to go all the way into New York City to do it, he just couldn’t deny the fact he had a pounding headache and no godly recollection how he’d come to be where he was. Which kinda pointed to drinking.
And as embarrassing as it may be, drinking would make sense. No one could fault him for it—he was practically in mourning. With Bucky off to basic, and Steve not an inch closer to following him, he had more than enough sorrows to warrant something to drown them with. And for the first hour, it was easy to believe that was the case. Steve was hung-over as hell and felt it. If things were off, he ignored them. All he wanted to do was get home.
Hours later, he still has a headache, but he thinks this one’s from fear. He doesn’t want a blue-card, he doesn’t want to lose the independence he’s fought for all his life just because his brain up and decided it wanted to be like every other part of his body and break.
But, okay. If he really was just seeing things wrong—if it was brain damage and not actual, physical changes—the key in his pocket should work on that yellow door. Right?
Steve opens his eyes and looks across the street. Yes, his apartment building is still there and yes, the door to the lobby is still yellow. (There’s a sign to a children’s daycare on one side and on the other, one that says ‘sushi’ in neon. Neither of these are familiar either. He tries not to dwell, he really, really does.) He steels himself, draws in a deep breath and tells himself if that door doesn’t open, it won’t be the end of the world, and he’s not gonna crack. No one’s gonna blue-card Steve Rogers, and he sure as hell ain’t gonna give them reason to by causing a scene.
He takes one step forward and someone steps in front of him and forces him back, a hand to his chest pinning him to the wall. Steve’s got the guy by the wrist before he even looks at his face. His face—his face strikes Steve dumb, he can’t be seeing who he thinks he’s seeing.
Oh Christ, he’s gotta be dreaming. Only in a dream would Bucky Barnes allow himself to look this haggard. He’s bearded, his hair’s curling round his jacket collar, and it’s been over a month since Steve’s seen him, sure, but there’s no way his hair could grow that long that fast. He smells awful, looks awful, but he’s. He’s definitely Bucky, Steve would know him anywhere.
He shouldn’t be here, though, he’s ‘sposed to be in basic!
Bucky’s gripping his shoulder now, eyes gone wide and there’s panic on his face, in the way his breath’s come in short and fast. Any reprimand Steve could give about him, well, ditching the army, dies right there on his tongue. Bucky looks at least half as terrified as Steve feels.
"You…you were…" Bucky starts—voice cracking, so dry and breathless, he looks so confused—and pauses to wet his lips. "Taller, when…When I last…"
"What?" Steve’s mouth runs on autopilot. "Bathed? Had a haircut? Jesus, Buck…” His eyes drag over him again, from his filthy hair to his unfamiliar, mud-caked shoes, back up to the utterly lost expression on his face. Steve’s voice softens automatically. “I’d…I’d march you upstairs and get you sorted, I jus’ dunno if I can get us into our apartment.”
Bucky’s expression has settled somewhere along the lines of dazed, eyes gone glassy. Steve is suddenly concerned he’s stopped listening.
"Bucky," he says, slowly, taking one lapel of his jacket. That seems to get his attention. "How much did you drink?"
At first the question seems to confuse him and it takes him far too long to suss out what Steve could mean. Almost like he’s drunk. Very, very drunk. Eventually, though, Bucky shakes his head and croaks out, “nothing.”
"Are you sure?" Steve can’t smell any alcohol on him, but he can smell that he hasn’t bathed in weeks and he’s no expert, but he thinks it may be possible the BO is drowning out the bourbon at this point.
Something flickers across Bucky’s face, sparked by the question, and he goes from confused to livid in a breath. He pins Steve with renewed strength, and now his hand’s half around his shoulder and his thumb’s caught against the base of Steve’s windpipe, an ounce of pressure away from cutting off his airway.
Like Steve could breathe with the furious way Bucky’s staring him down.
In his lifetime, Steve’s seen the promise of violence written in the posture of hundreds of men, all of them just bleeding their intention to ruin him. He’s seen Bucky’s posture at others, mostly for Steve’s sake. Never at him. Never once at him.
“Stop,” Bucky says, teeth bared. “I’m. Asking. The Questions.” Each word is bitten off with such effort, it’s like he’s struggling with himself to get them out, fighting to make each heard.
Steve’s landed himself in a nightmare. Steve nods.