When Steve Rogers had been born, he had been born sick. The doctors were certain that he wouldn’t survive the night. He was too weak, too small for a child of nine months. They were afraid his heart was too frail and it sounded like he couldn’t breath properly. They did the best that they could, bundled him up, but they expected to find him dead before morning.
He wasn’t. Days passed, Steve didn’t get better, his breathing didn’t improve and his heart beat somewhat erratically still, but he didn’t die. A week later, baffled, the doctors gave him to his mother to take home.
Sarah Rogers called him her little miracle child, and like that it seemed to set a precedent for his life, a precedent that no matter how ill, no matter how bad Steve’s health got, he didn’t seem to die. He caught the flu when he was five, and technically this was his second time with the flu. He’d been born in the middle of the pandemic that swept the United States and he’d been such a sickly thing it was to be expected that he’d catch it before he could even walk, expected that he’d die from it (which he didn’t) so when he was five Sarah knew the drill.
Steve got sick enough that he couldn’t move. He ran a fever high enough that he hallucinated, dangerous enough that he’d be placed in a bath filled to the brim with the coldest water Sarah could get him. After nearly a month sick and teetering on the edge, Steve recovered. He’d lost nearly all of his weight and looked more like skin and bones, and he had the hardest time of breathing afterward, but he was alive.
He’d get asthma attacks, some bad enough that he’d wheeze and cough and then pass out from lack of air. Sometimes he’d stumble, fall, hit his head because his blood sugar levels had spiked past what little insulin he’d had in him--and when he’d been diagnosed diabetic it’d been such a relief as there was something more Sarah could do to help him. It cost them a pretty penny, and she’d had to work two jobs alongside her husbands one (most of his money seemed to be spent upon booze) but she got Steve the medication he needed.
As Steve got older the more he got teased for his poor health. Kids would pity him and bully him both, but he pushed past it. By the time Steve was ten he began picking fights and would come home beaten bloody and bruised and sometimes with a fair few broken arms, legs, ribs. Sarah was certain he’d snap his neck at some point.
(Steve could actually remember one of the boys grabbing him and twisting, he could remember a crack and then he woke up, alone in the back alley sore but alive, half-certain he’d imagined it--that had been the first of many denials to come)
Then Steve met Bucky. He had a split lip and a limp, he’d taken quite a beating. He was four-eight and fifty pounds and he looked it. Bucky was five foot and almost a hundred and had a black eye and a loose tooth. His mouth looked bloodied from it when he grinned and hauled Steve up and laughed. They met in a back alley during a brawl. They became friends when Bucky took Steve home to patch him up. That simple, little moment seemed to define their lives from then on.
The first time it happened with Bucky, Bucky had been certain that he’d imagined it. It was a few years after they’d become friends, after Steve’s mom ended up in the hospital sick and dying. In those days Bucky would come over and take care of Steve, especially during the winter time when Steve would catch a cold, or even if it came around, the flu.
This time it’d been the flu, and for the first time since he was five Steve was in a really bad state. He had a fever that refused to be broken, muttered gibberish in fever dreams, hallucinated his dad home from work yelling vitriol at him.
(his father had been dead for almost eight years)
Steve was cold and clammy and hot all at once. There was a permanent trashcan set next to Steve’s bed as he threw up any solid food he’d been given, and often even the soups and water that Bucky practically forced down his throat to stave off dehydration.
He should be in a hospital, Bucky knew. Steve should be holed up in a bed on so many drugs to keep him alive and boost his immune system, except Steve was poor as dirt and still paying his own ma’s medical bills and Bucky was poor as dirt too, unable to buy anything more than soup and water and some basic cold medicine. Unable to do anything except watch Steve die.
“B-Bucky…” Steve muttered in his fever dreams. He muttered Bucky a lot as days went on when he wasn’t having conversations with his ma who wasn’t there, or his dad who was long buried in the ground. Bucky sat beside him, stroke his haired, worked a wet cloth across Steve’s brow.
“I’m here Steve,” he’d say back. “I’ve got you Stevie.”
They weren’t all each other had left. Bucky still had his own ma and dad back at their apartment, but it wasn’t like they noticed his absences as much as he would like. It wasn’t like they’d notice the days to months he’d be gone taking care of Steve and working on the docks to make money because Steve couldn’t anymore.
Steve smiled, wheezed, “Love you, Buck.” They said silly stupid things like that a lot. Bucky thought nothing of it, they were just two boys, brothers practically. It wasn’t like Steve was pretty like a girl, he was pretty, but he was no dame, and Steve, well, any pretty girl walked by Steve and he’d get all tongue-tied and twisted up.
“Yeah, Stevie, I know,” Bucky said back. “With you ‘till the end of the line.”
“‘Till the end of the line,” Steve muttered. Bucky curled himself around Steve, buried his face into Steve’s fevered skin. He didn’t cry, although it was a near thing. Steve was the best pal a guy could ask for, the best guy in the world. He made Bucky feel like a better man some days (because Bucky knew he was nothing compared to Steve who had such something in him, and it drew Bucky in like a moth to the flame) and there was nothing Bucky could do to save him. This wasn’t a fight in a back alley. This wasn’t something Bucky could fix.
He felt like he was drowning.
At some point, Bucky drifted off. When he woke up Steve’s fever was gone. His skin wasn’t blistering hot. Bucky pulled himself back.
“Steve?” he asked, placed his hand across Steve’s lips. Steve was so sick he wheezed with every breath, but right now Bucky couldn’t hear a damn thing. There was no faint touch of breath across the back of his palm. “Steve?” Bucky asked, again. He shook Steve’s shoulder.
Steve wasn’t breathing. Steve wasn’t feverish. For one terrifying moment Bucky thought Steve was dead, that it finally happened, that he let Steve die. Except then Steve shifted, and breath hit Bucky’s hand.
“M’sleepin,” Steve mumbled and Bucky breathed a sigh of relief. Steve wasn’t dead. He was cold but not dead.
“Your fevers broken,” Bucky said. “Stevie your fevers broken.”
“S’great,” Steve mumbled. “Now lemme sleep.”
Bucky’s lips twitched, he smiled, muttered, “Sure thing,” and slipped out of the bed.
(Bucky never forgot that first terrifying moment when he thought Steve had died, never forgot how cold Steve felt, and how there was no breath and no response, and later, when Steve got better, Bucky noticed how much time it took for him to be back on his feet, to be back to a little nuisance who got into fights in back alleys, and it left him a little bit baffled)
There were several times between the next, several moments that made Bucky’s breath hitch in the fear and certainty that Steve would be gone the next second. Sometimes he was afraid that it happened, moments where Steve collapsed but every time Bucky checked Steve was breathing. Steve was okay and so he brushed it aside as a concern that had no merit, no rhyme or reason, a little figment of imagination.
This time was different. Bucky knew this time was different because this was his last night in Brooklyn as tomorrow he’d be on a plane for the trenches. Bucky had thought he’d spend the night with a dame, spend it laughing and smiling and maybe with a bit of pleasure. He’d thought that up until that last moment after the Expo when he caught Steve staring. When he got into an argument with this little pretty thing who was too fragile for war and didn’t see it.
Bucky left with the girls, left with a smile, but he couldn’t stop thinking about Steve, he couldn’t stop worrying about Steve and when it came time that he would offer to take them home, he didn’t.
“I’m sorry gals,” Bucky gave them a grin and a shrug. “Thank you for a wonderful last night.” He gave them both a kiss to the back of their hands and slipped off to the sounds giggles and laughter and cheerful goodbyes.
Bucky slipped down streets and checked back alley’s for Steve on his way home, just to be certain. When he got to the apartment they both shared, when he slipped the key into the lock and then through the door, Bucky breathed a sigh of relief. He could see Steve’s shoes and then his coat, which meant Steve was home and most likely disappointed at yet another rejection.
He kicked off his shoes and tugged off his jacket. Technically Bucky knew he was supposed to be at the base, to report in and be prepared to shove off tomorrow. He’d been given enough leave for just tonight, for the planned events of tonight, except Bucky didn’t care. He had to check on Steve at least one last time before he went back and prepared for war.
Bucky loosened his tie and made his way towards the bedroom where his cot and Steve’s bed--because Steve needed the bed--rested. He froze about three steps away when he heard a familiar sound. Within seconds Bucky was in the room and at Steve’s side.
“Stevie?” he said quickly, lifting Steve up, pulling his arms above Steve’s head. “Shit.” Steve was gasping, wheezing and coughing and he looked blue in the face. He couldn’t get enough air in his lungs and Bucky felt like he couldn’t breath even as he did everything he could to open up Steve’s airway. “Shit, Steve, Stevie, goddammit punk stay with me.”
Not now not now not now repeated like a mantra in his head as Bucky hefted Steve up and pulled him towards the bathroom. Steam had worked in the past when this happened, when Steve’s breathing kicked up worse. He knew the drill by heart now and he wondered why Steve hadn’t tried to get to the bathroom and get the shower running. The attack probably came on fast, faster than Steve expected, the idiot probably pushed himself--Bucky had to stop his thoughts as he dropped Steve down into the bottom of the shower and turned on the water.
“Come on, Steve, stay with me,” Bucky cursed, pushing the water towards hot and then kneeling down. He slapped Steve’s cheek. “Steve. Stevie. Come on.” The wheezing was slowing down, but Steve still looked too blue in the face.
Bucky knew he hadn’t got there in time.
“Fuck, Steve, this isn’t funny,” Bucky said. “Come on man breathe.”
Steve went quiet, and then still. His eyes were open, his face was blue, and he wasn’t breathing.
“Steve. Steve no,” Bucky said quickly. He shook Steve by the shoulders. “Steve come on.” He didn’t cry. The water rained down around him and Steve and he didn’t cry. After a moment Bucky just leaned forward and cradled Steve into his arms. He pressed his face into Steve’s neck and grit his teeth. He wanted to scream, to apologize. He shouldn’t have let Steve step into that damn recruitment center, he shouldn’t have left with the girls.
The water went from hot to cold, but they were poor and hot water wasn’t easy to come by on the best of days so Bucky didn’t count that as a good counter for time. He just sat there, cradled Steve in his arms. He didn’t cry. The water went from cold to colder and colder and Bucky squeezed Steve tighter and hissed, “Goddammit punk ,” under his breath.
Steve shifted. Bucky thought he imagined it but Steve shifted. Then came a small wheezing gasp and then Steve jolted in his arms and rasped out a weak, “Bucky?”
It took Bucky a moment to register that this was actually happening. That Steve was breathing.
“Buck, you’re makin’ it hard to breath.”
That Steve was alive when just a second ago Bucky knew he was dead. Bucky pulled back, stared at Steve’s face. He was breathing. His eyes moved and blinked and he wasn’t so blue in the face anymore.
Steve gave him a pained smile and Bucky felt his heart stop .
“Hey, Buck,” Steve said and Bucky crushed him right back into his arms. He didn’t sob.
“Fucking idiot why didn’t you get in the shower godammit Steve why didn’t you do anything,” Bucky repeated over and over, arms trembling with a sort of euphoria he couldn’t quite name. Steve laughed. He sounded better.
Bucky wasn’t sure he was imagining it.
“C’mon, Buck, let up,” Steve said, pressed his hand into Bucky’s shoulder. “I gotta breath, jerk.”
Bucky pressed his face into Steve’s neck and hissed, “Don’t ever leave me.”
Steve smiled. “‘Till the end of the line, right?”
“Don’t ever forget it,” Bucky growled, and only then he let Steve up, pulled Steve out of the bathroom and began to towel him off. He helped Steve change and Steve let him.
Bucky wasn’t sure if this was all in his head. It would have been a pretty dream, to imagine Steve alive when he’d just died. Pretty, and cruel.
(only when he finally shipped out did Bucky actually realize, actually wonder, if he hadn’t made it up, if he hadn’t pretended Steve could talk to him and actually left a corpse behind in the bedroom, and he thought it would be fitting for his mind to shatter like that because life without Steve was unfathomable, and had been unfathomable ever since he’d first grown attached, and boy if that wasn’t a revelation that Bucky didn’t want)
Steve wasn’t sure how he survived going through basic when he knew he could keel over without the slightest trouble. He could remember Bucky, he could remember how Bucky reacted to his latest brush with death. He could remember the world going black while he was in Bucky’s arms. He had the faintest memory of something wet, of Bucky pleading.
He remembered waking up, remembered how terrified Bucky looked and remembered how clingy Bucky had been before he shipped out the next day. It leave Steve breathless and terrified and wondering how out of it he’d been that time, didn’t bother with the denials and the pretending it didn’t happen because it did . Bucky had been there, Bucky had seen and with how shattered Bucky had looked--
Steve shoved the thoughts away, shoved them down and deep as he straightened his tie and then his hat. He survived without incident and that was a miracle, he knew it was a miracle. He’d not had a single asthma attack, or a strike of cold, or his heart acting up and funny with all the strenuous activity as it did from time to time. His chest hurt, but then that wasn’t anything new, really. Steve went through life in pain.
Assured that he looked impeccable Steve glanced to the little box full of letters. He reached out to touch them, to remind himself why he was doing this.
(he’d told Erskine it was bullies, that wasn’t a lie, but he also only got the notion in his head when Bucky enlisted)
Bucky had written him once every week. Steve didn’t read any hint in Bucky’s letters about what he saw, about what Steve did (or didn’t) do. He saw no sign that Bucky even knew what happened except that the letters weren’t quite Bucky . There was something wrong about them.
I do this for him, Steve reminded himself, and then slipped a lid on the box and pressed it into his trunk before he left the barracks completely. The car ride over Steve spent in reminiscence. Every alley he mentioned to Peggy, voice growing a bit more bitter at each statement, he thought of other instances that happened.
“I got beat up in that alley,” Steve said. I died in that alley, he thought. The next three alley’s he could remember dying, remember the feel of it pulling him under, remember the dark and then remember waking up to Bucky standing over him, shaking his shoulder and slapping his check, or sometimes just waking up alone.
The next three alley’s had more pleasant memories alongside being beaten. Two of them Bucky came to his rescue, which he didn’t want to admit he needed rescuing but he did. The third he and Bucky had been completely drunk, coming home after a night of bar hopping and in Bucky’s case an unsuccessful hookup. In that alley Steve had kissed Bucky.
Bucky didn’t remember it, but Steve did.
The alley after that Steve had sucked Bucky off.
(Bucky didn’t remember that one either)
The rest of the alley’s were back to deaths and beatings. Steve turned away. He let his mind drift off to Bucky’s letters and before he knew it they were at the building where whatever the SSR and Erskine wanted to do to him would happen. The rest of the time leading up to the procedure was a blur, really, a mix of faces and greetings and smiles and nerves.
Steve only came back to himself as he laid on the table. It was cold and it jolted him out of memory. Erskine pressed pads down to hold him, pressed a needle into his skin.
“That wasn’t too bad,” Steve said. Erskine gave him a look.
“That was penicillin,” Erskine told him. Steve didn’t quite blush although his ears reddened a bit. A second later, a minute later, the real injections began and it was a faint burning sensation that caused Steve’s eyes to snap open wide in response.
Steve had a bad feeling. The fire spread as the doors to the pod closed around him and Steve clenched his eyes shut. The world around him lit up in what Erskine dubbed Vita Rays and the fire grew nearly unbearable. At first Steve clenched his jaw. He thought, this feels like dying for a moment. He refused to scream, he refused to let it show.
He began to scream. Distantly he could hear yelling, he could hear someone say to turn it off. The burning was replaced with lead.
No, nonononono they can’t they can’t I’ll die and they’ll see they can’t better that they don’t know they don’t see his thoughts were a whirl of panic.
“No! I can take it! Keep going!”
When they didn’t stop, when they kept going, it was almost a relief to accept the pain, to accept the burning. It felt like he was being immolated. Steve screamed until he couldn’t scream, until it suddenly went numb instead of painful, until he blacked out.
(until he died)
Steve came back as they were opening the pod. He felt different. His head felt light. He felt like he was floating. He was breathing deeper and stronger than he’d ever breathed before. His eyes opened as they unstrapped him. He stumbled to his feet and looked at the world.
(when had there been so much color to things?)
He felt like he was in a dream. He felt like he’d taken something, breathed in something toxic and came out seeing rainbows and floating on air and breathing. Is this what breathing feels like? Steve stumbled. He smiled. He laughed.
Is this what living feels like?
(later when everything was said and done Steve categorized every difference to himself, every little nuance that changed, every bit where he didn’t ache, where he didn’t hurt, where he could breathe and see and where his heart beat like it was normal instead of broken, and Steve found himself amazed at the change, amazed that he survived it in the first place even though there hadn’t been any doubt really that he would have stayed dead, he hadn’t so far)
It happened after Steve showed up and dragged him from the table. After they’d gone off to have drinks and Bucky felt like the invisible fly on the wall. After Steve asked him to join his group of morons out to hunt down HYDRA and stop them. It happened after weeks and weeks of being careful, of taking down guys before they could get a hit on Steve, of protecting Steve and pretending he didn’t remember Steve dying in his arms.
Bucky knew now that this was real. Steve was alive and he’d come back from the dead and he’d probably come back from the dead several times over the years Bucky knew him, and several times before that even, and now Steve was something different, bigger, larger than life but it was wholly Steve . He was still that scrawny ass punk that once sucked him off in a back alley (Steve thought he didn’t remember, he did ) and who meant so much to Bucky that Bucky didn’t even know what it was just that life without Steve would hurt and it had hurt.
They were out taking down a HYDRA outpost, as usual, when it happened. It was the catalyst for everything after. Bucky had been placed up on a rock ledge, the best position for a sniper like him. He was alone, camouflaged by plants and leaves and pressed flat into the rock. He picked off targets one by one, kept his scope around Steve except Dernier was in trouble and then Dum Dum and fuck Morita can’t you guys watch your six? Bucky got distracted so he didn’t notice until he swung back to Steve and saw him crumpled on the ground a smear of red placed at his forehead.
Bucky had never moved faster than in that moment. His breath hitched and his eyes went wide but he didn’t freeze he moved. The urge to protect Steve had grown stronger and stronger and stronger since that first HYDRA base since Steve rescued him from hell and a table and nothing more than a repeat of name rank serial number. He scrambled down rock and he took aim at HYDRA agents with just a glance and a pull of the trigger (they each went down with headshots) as he raced over to Steve.
Steve wasn’t breathing, but then a bullet through your skull would do that to anyone. Bucky crouched down, double checked anyway, and then grabbed Steve by the arm. He looked at the others, each occupied with their own task or with just staying alive, and with a snarl of, “Goddammit punk,” Bucky hauled Steve up until he had him wrapped around his shoulder and began to drag him from the battlefield.
Steve began to breath again as soon as they hit the trees. Bucky scraped away the dried blood with his nails and grabbed Steve by the back of his head and pressed his face to Steves until they where forehead to forehead nose to nose.
“Fuckin watch your six, punk,” Bucky snarled and Steve stared at him in that wide eyed and confused haze of just waking up.
“You can’t keep doin this to me,” Bucky said, his voice pitching lower. “Fuck, Steve.”
“What--” Steve started but Bucky pulled away. He gave Steve a look that said we’re havin’ words later and then he hauled up his rifle and took quick aim. Fifteen rapid fire shots with minute adjustment took care of the rest of the agents distracting the rest of the Commandos and then they regrouped and headed back toward camp.
That night, when the Commandos commented about the blood on Steve’s helmet, Bucky brushed it off for him.
“One of those HYDRA goons got too close so when I shot ‘em Stevie got hit with the spray,” Bucky said this with a grin, full of teeth and vicious. He was like a rabid dog at times, dangerous with how bloodthirsty he appeared. When the others settled down to sleep was when Bucky pulled Steve off to the side.
Steve didn’t understand what Bucky was doing until Bucky shoved him into a tree.
“Do you have a fuckin death wish?” Bucky hissed between his teeth, pressed close and face inches away,
“Buck--” Steve started.
“I looked away for just one goddamn second and I found you dead on the ground Rogers,” Bucky snarled. “Dead from a headshot.” He watched Steve pale.
“Bucky I can explain--” Steve started but stopped when Bucky laughed a low, crazed sort of sound.
“I figured it out after you got me off the damn table,” he said and pressed his face into Steve’s neck. “After I got my head on straight enough to realize I wasn’t dreamin. Realized that you died in my fuckin arms right before I shipped out. Realized this’d probably happened more times than I can count fuckin punk.”
Steve didn’t reply at first. He worked his mouth, let Bucky keep him pressed into the wood of the tree until he closed his eyes.
“What am I?” he asked, an almost plaintive sound releasing from his throat. It was a question he asked himself the older he got when it became impossible to ignore that he just didn’t stay dead. That every moment he thought was his last, God chucked him back into his broken and beaten body and forced him to move on. That he wouldn’t see his ma, and that one day Bucky was going to die and Steve would be all alone, unable to join Bucky.
“A fuckin miracle,” Bucky muttered. “A god damn bona fide miracle.”
“I’m not,” Steve muttered. “I’m not a miracle, Buck. I’m cursed.”
“Ain’t no such thing,” Bucky hissed back and pressed his lips to Steve’s throat enough to give Steve pause. “Can’t be.”
“You’re too fuckin good to die, that’s what,” Bucky said, and pulled back. He stared at Steve, his face utterly serious. “You’re thinkin God keeps shovin you back down because there’s somethin wrong, but I’m tellin you that ain’t it, Rogers. You keep on wakin up because you’re too fuckin good to stay dead. Do you understand me?”
Steve squeezed his eyes shut.. He hissed, “Buck,” because there was nothing more than he could say. Bucky saw the tears gathered in the corners of his eyes and pressed a kiss there. It was spontaneous, and it was wrong (what if they saw, the others, what if they saw) but it felt right.
“Don’t you ever do somethin so stupid again,” Bucky said. “Don’t you ever leave me.”
Oh just shut up, Bucky thought, and then pressed his lips against Steve to do just that. When he pulled back Steve looked terrified, looked pale, so Bucky just said, “You think I was pullin some sort of joke when I said ‘till the end of the line, pal?”
That was all that needed to be said.
(Steve promised to never do it again, and Bucky threatened that if he ever did he’d shoot him in the head when he woke up, and then shoot him again after that until Steve got it through his thick skull that Bucky couldn’t survive it again; when Steve drove the plane into the ice months, weeks, years later Steve figured Bucky could forgive him this because Bucky was dead, and maybe this time he wouldn’t wake up)
Steve had a word for what he was, now. He had a word after he woke up (he didn’t want to wake up ever again) to the sound of the Dodgers game. He had a word after he learned of the internet and the changes in the world. He had a word after he fought alongside the others, after he settled back and let the world and the missions wash over him.
Mutant. He was a mutant.
Steve read up on the phenomenon, on the legislature and the literature about it. He read up on the two known factions (Brotherhood, Xavier’s School) and he thought for a moment to visit, to see one of these people (Xavier seemed like the better choice) and talk about it, because he needed to talk about it. He needed to tell someone and talk to someone about this whole thing, about his tendency to jump off of tall buildings and put himself into situations where he risked the chance of never waking up again.
(he didn’t want to wake up he never wanted to wake up again God why couldn’t you let him die?)
Two years rolled around and it was May and suddenly the world (Natasha, Sam, Fury, SHIELD) began to make less and less and more and more sense. He’d floated in a haze of not-feeling ever since waking up, ever since New York and the Chitauri when it finally hit home that this wasn’t home. Steve drifted, and he knew Natasha noticed because she kept trying to fix it, but what she kept doing wouldn’t work. No dame would know him like Bucky could, so no dame held interest to him like Bucky did.
Besides, they’d leave him in the end. Steve wasn’t worth it. He was a mutant that didn’t stay dead.
But then things got weird, and as they got weird they started to make sense. Steve found himself a purpose (Zola, HYDRA, SHIELD, it all had to go) he found himself meaning. He found a target to take out his broken mind on and he set himself up for it. He was ready to tear SHIELD down and HYDRA with it, to end the Winter Soldier and to avenge Nick Fury who was the closest person he’d ever come to just outright telling.
(he’d imagined the scenario more than once, imagined himself saying “Sir, I think you should know that I’m a mutant. I don’t die” and imagined Fury’s reaction, the wide eyed deadpanned stare and the mutter of, “I already knew that Rogers tell me something I don’t know” and for the fleetest of moments Steve thought he’d feel happiness)
Except then, except then he saw the face beneath the mask. It felt like a punch to the gut, it felt like he’d lost his ability to breath, that suddenly he was ninety pounds five-four and asthmatic again. It took him longer than he liked to process it all, longer than he’d want to put it all together and formulate a plan, but then Steve had a plan.
(“Don’t ever leave me, ” Bucky had said along with several other curses and promises to never put himself in the position of needing to wake up like that again)
Steve planned to die. It was that simple. He grabbed the museum piece, the tights from his showgirl days (“You gonna keep the costume?”) with the knowledge that if Bucky shot him it wouldn’t protect him. He geared himself up, psyched himself into the mindset which truthfully he didn’t need much of, and then went off to war. This had to work. Dying had to wake up Bucky, remind Bucky of everything, and Steve would take Bucky being pissed at him for doing it over this tortured being that HYDRA made him into.
So when he stood on the bridge and Bucky was there--
(“Don’t make me do this, Buck”)
When he broke or dislocated Bucky’s arm--
When he squeezed until Bucky went limp, when Bucky got back up and shot him--
(pain, but not fatal, fuck Bucky make it fatal)
When he let Bucky beat him, let Bucky use him, let Bucky see him--
(“I’m with you till the end of the line,” he breathed, a promise, their promise)
And when he fell--
(isn’t this ironic? I couldn’t catch you, I couldn’t save you, I watched you fall now you watch me do the same)
When he hit the water and the breath left him--
(I can’t breathe I can’t think Bucky where is Bucky please Bucky save me save me I’m drowning)
When he drowned and it all went black, when he died--
(he could see a hand reach out, grab him, just before it faded away into nothing again)
When he woke up on the beach, bleeding, to see Bucky walk away Steve knew it was worth it. He promised himself this was the last time, because after this he’d find Bucky. Bucky would remember and then everything in Steve’s life would be right again.
(later he woke up in the hospital and he felt satisfied, guilty but satisfied, and he murmured, “On your left” with a smile because he knew Sam would help him, because Bucky dragged him out of the water and saved his life)
In August Steve finally caught up to Bucky, he finally found him again. Bucky was sitting in a shitty motel staring at his hands placed between his legs and silent when Steve stepped through the door, shield held tight as a precaution.
“Buck?” Steve asked, biting his lip. Bucky looked up. He wasn’t dressed in uniform, but the shield was telling enough. Steve watched as the gaze slid across him and as lips pressed together.
There was a moment where nobody said anything. Bucky got to his feet, moving slowly and walked over until he stood just in front of Steve. He allowed Steve to take in the changes to his face, to his body. He wasn’t five feet shorter than Steve anymore, he’d grown a full two inches. He was more toned, his left arm was a cybernetic prosthetic. His eyes were sunken but that could have been from lack of sleep, his hair was longer.
“Bucky?” Steve questioned and there was such hope in his voice. Bucky clenched his fist and ground his teeth together.
Then, he screamed, “YOU FUCKING PROMISED ME!” and threw a punch across Steve’s face hard enough to knock Steve to the ground.
“I’m sorry, Buck,” Steve said quickly, “but I didn’t know how else to get you out of it.”
Bucky snarled, dropped down over Steve’s hips and reached out with his flesh and blood hand for Steve’s neck. He bashed the skull into the ground, unafraid of kill Steve because he was sturdier like this.
“You promised!” he growled over and over again until he couldn’t anymore. Steve didn’t fight him, just let Bucky get it out until Bucky was pressing his face into Steve’s neck with a whine and Steve could feel the tears there.
“I’m so sorry Buck I know I did,” Steve said, a hand coming up to stroke Bucky’s hair. His voice wobbled. “I know I did and I broke it and fuck I’m so sorry I didn’t know what to do.”
“Don’t ever do that again,” Bucky said, muffled into Steve’s neck.
“Never again,” Steve said back fervently. “I mean it never again. I won’t ever do it again.”
Bucky breathed out a sigh. Said, “Good,” and went almost entirely limp. He was tired, exhausted. Steve stroked his hand down the back of Bucky’s head and rubbed against Bucky’s back, a soothing sort of pressure.
They didn’t move for what felt like hours.
In September Bucky discovered Mutants. After August Steve had brought him home to DC, then they changed paths and moved to New York in the Avengers Tower. Bucky got a crash course not dissimilar to Steve’s on the internet and modern technology, which he knew a great deal of already, and subsequently he learned about Mutants.
He also learned about gay activism and the legality of marriage in New York but that is a different story entirely.
When Bucky read up on Xavier’s school, read up on Mutants and their struggle and the legislature and everything he could absorb about it, he thought he’d feel shocked. Maybe terrified, maybe worried, but instead he felt relief. Steve wasn’t alone in this strange new world as much as Steve might think, and it warmed his heart.
“You’re a mutant,” Bucky said over a cup of coffee in the morning when Steve finally wandered in from sleeping. He had the most ridiculous bed hair that made Bucky’s lips twitch upward in a not-quite-smile.
Steve paused in his movement to grab a cup of joe and gave Bucky a look.
“I already asked JARVIS to keep this quiet,” Bucky said. “This conversation and any other conversations involving Steve Rogers being a mutant.”
Steve relaxed, but he still gave Bucky a look as he sat down with his own cup of coffee. “I learned that shortly before Insight,” he said. “When did you figure it out?”
Bucky thought it was good that Steve wasn’t talking about being cursed again, or even seemed defensive about the subject. He looked a little resigned, but more accepting, and it made Bucky smile.
“Last night,” Bucky said. “I was looking up things.”
Steve gave him a somewhat strained smile. He said, “I know. I did too.” They lapsed into silence for a while, make breakfast and ate and then went about their other morning routines. Steve showered first, at least until Bucky got impatient and ambushed him in the shower. It’s surprisingly domestic and pleasant considering neither enhanced man ever expected anything like this to ever happen to one another.
It’s later, at night, when they are laying in bed with Steve pressed against Buckys chest and Bucky stroking a hand along Steve’s arm--his metal one, which Steve surprisingly actually took a liking to that made Bucky both parts awkward and pleased--that Bucky brought the subject up again. Steve dosed, and Bucky knew that this is nothing more than a sneak attack really, an effort to get Steve to agree when he’s more malleable, but Bucky figured he’s allowed little things like this after everything that happened.
“I think you should talk to this Xavier guy,” Bucky said.
Steve groaned and shifted, pressed his face into Bucky’s neck with a kiss and a muttered, “Bucky,” that sounded more exasperated and fond than upset.
“I’m serious,” Bucky said. “I think he could help you. You know. Figure this whole thing out, come to terms with it.”
“I have come to terms with it,” Steve said. “Got to sleep.”
“You haven’t, Stevie, don’t lie to me,” Bucky said lowly, but he pressed a kiss to Steve’s head and didn’t ask him again. He knew Steve wouldn’t agree, and if he brought it up again he’d be ordered to drop it and he would do so because Steve asked him to. So Bucky dropped it without pushing Steve to that point. He knew when to give in.
It was October when Bucky finally was considered sane enough to unleash upon the world, which wasn’t necessary true but wasn’t wrong either. He was still broken, and still healing, but he was saner than he’d been in a long while so they counted that as a win. In an effort to celebrate Stark gave him his own phone and Bucky smiled and played pleased at the whole affair--he was pleased, he just disliked crowds of people after having been constantly crowded in HYDRA by scientists and technicians and handlers--and later Steve gave him his own, personal present that made everything, every struggle, every fight, worth it.
When Steve went out for his morning jog Bucky pulled out his phone and looked up a number he’d memorized back in September. With steady hands, and the knowledge that Steve probably would kill him later, Bucky dialed. He held the phone to his ear, listened to the ringtone, and waited.
“Hello?” the voice on the other line sounded old, and Bucky let him close his eyes.
“Hi, Professor Xavier?” Bucky said. “My name is Bucky Barnes. I was hoping I could schedule a meeting with you.
“Mr. Barnes,” Xavier sounded surprised, almost shocked. “I must say this is rather unprecedented. May I ask why an iconic american legend desires to speak with me?”
Buck licked his lips, closed his eyes, and took the plunge. He said, “It’s about my friend Steve.”
They had a meeting arranged for later that week. Bucky hung up feeling accomplished, and also extremely guilty. Steve was going to kill him. He knew he would. Bucky forced himself to relax, to breathe out and calm himself. It was for the best.
When Steve came home, Bucky told him he called Xavier. Steve looked betrayed, infuriated that Bucky would go behind his back like that.
“I did it for me, not for you,” Bucky said cautiously when Steve looked ready to gear up for a rant. “I want to be certain that HYDRA can’t influence me again.” It wasn’t exactly a lie, he did discuss that with Xavier as well, voicing his fears and concerns alongside explaining why he wanted Steve to talk to Xavier, the specifics as he knew them.
Steve deflated, the entire fight went out of him in a moments notice. “Alright, Buck,” he said. “When’s this appointment?”
Bucky smiled. It was strained. “Two days from now. You’ll come with me, right?” he asked, and Steve reached out a hand and squeezed his comfortingly.
“‘Till the end of the line,” he repeated. Bucky smiled, said, “‘Till the end of the line,” back.
The next two days Bucky spent in a nervous sort of twitter, and when he got on the bike behind Steve he grasped Steve’s waist tight enough to bruise. They took the drive from New York to Westchester in silence. When they finally arrived both Bucky and Steve stared at the mansion with unrestrained awe.
“I don’t remember seein houses that fancy afore ‘cept in Europe,” Bucky muttered.
“Yeah,” Steve said back. Bucky could feel him tense from nervousness, and squeezed.
“Relax, Stevie,” Bucky said. “You’re okay.” Steve pulled Bucky’s flesh and blood hand up, driving the bike one handed, and pressed a kiss to Bucky’s knuckles like a dame. Bucky chuckled into Steve’s neck as the bike came to a halt.
They were greeted by a dark skinned women with white hair who introduced herself as Ororo Monroe, also known as Storm. Steve smiled, shook her head. He didn’t call her ma’am or miss, he’d once told Bucky that Natasha had pulled him aside after the Chitauri Invasion to explain to him how quite a few women these days consider it condescending or demeaning when all Steve thought was that he’d been polite. Bucky snorted and told Steve that Natasha was probably pulling his leg, there were plenty of dame’s out there who still liked being addressed all fancy and retro.
It wasn’t an insult, anyway, to address a lady proper. Peggy was a ma’am and Peggy could kick his and Steve’s asses in more ways that Bucky could count. If anything Bucky thought ma’am was the highest compliment you could pay a lady, because it meant you were on par with some pretty bold and fierce women from history.
Ororo lead them through the halls. They got a few awed looks from the kids, Steve more so than Bucky because Bucky had long hair and a slight bit of stubble, which made him look less effectively like the Bucky Barnes from the nineteen forties than anyone liked to admit except Steve. Steve reached down and squeezed Bucky’s hand comfortingly and Bucky smiled somewhat strained.
He thought, please don’t hate me Stevie, and he heard a chuckle in his mind which he figured was Xavier.
Don’t worry, Mr. Barnes, your friend is quite aware of your deception and is not angry. Dare I say it he seems pleased.
Well ain’t that some relief, Bucky thought back and relaxed just a tad. Steve gave him a glance and a half little smirk.
“You can’t hide nothin’ from me, jerk,” he said, having guessed somewhat correctly that Xavier contacted him through telepathy the minute Bucky relaxed.
“Punk,” Bucky said back affectionately.
Ororo left them at the door to Xavier’s office and gave them a smile and a nod.
“I hope your conversation goes well,” she said.
“Thanks,” Bucky said back. Steve dried his palms on his pants and gave her a smile. With a mental prod they entered the office and met Charles Xavier for the first time.
“Have a seat,” Xavier said, and motioned towards the two leather chairs surrounding a table. He wheeled himself over to a little bar and asked, “Would you like a drink?
“God yes,” Bucky said, collapsing boneless. Steve just laughed.
“Sure,” he said with a smile. It wasn’t so strained as it’d been at the prospect of a meeting with Xavier a month ago. Bucky felt like he’d done something right for once, and when Steve looked at him and mouthed Till the end of the line, Buck Bucky knew he’d done something right.
They talked for hours. They discussed Steves mutation and Bucky explained what he’d seen and Steve explained what he knew. Steve said how he’d been born deathly sick, and his entire life was fighting off colds and asthma attacks and diabetic attacks and heart attacks and pain. He explained that it’d get bad enough he’d black out--Bucky said he died, that he’d stop breathing and go cold and stop moving and it was the worst thing to experience, to see happen, because Steve Rogers was dead--and then he’d wake up groggy. Whatever had been ailing him, whatever had killed him, wasn’t suddenly gone. It took a while for his body to counteract it. If it was an illness, he’d start getting better, he’d start recovering and get over it. If it was asthma, he’d be groggy and sluggish as his body recovered from essentially asphyxiation. If it was a heart attack his chest would hurt something fierce and every heartbeat felt like a nail being hammered into his chest.
A gunshot wound always ended with the bullet being pressed out and healed over before he woke up. A broken bone was always corrected before his eyes opened. Any superficial non-lethal wounds healed at twice the normal rate after he’d died, before the serum, as his body worked to correct whatever had happened.
Then when he had the serum things changed. Steve explained that he’d died in the machine, that it felt like everything had burned to ash and then was rebuilt from the ground up. Suddenly he could breath and there wasn’t pain and his heart beat normally. Additionally he seemed to heal even faster, at twice the speed of a normal human before dying, and near instantaneous after. They knew that from the bullet Steve got back during WWII which left Bucky with clenched fists and a scowl. Steve was faster, stronger, and his memory enhanced, but those were all projected side effects of the serum itself, the side effects the scientists planned on.
Then they moved on to Bucky. Xavier dipped into Bucky’s head and rooted out anything HYDRA had planted. He nullified it, and they talked some more for a while before Steve and Bucky left, both feeling lighter and better than they had in a long while.
“You were right,” Steve said as he got on the bike. “I needed that.”
Bucky smiled, said, “See? I always know what’s best for you.” Steve laughed, and Bucky leaned over to kiss him. It felt good to do that now.
“Let’s go home, Buck,” Steve said.
“Okay,” Bucky said. “Let’s go home.”