Bucky knew Steve's time was limited. As time went on he watched the crisp colours drain back to their original dullness. It was gradual for the first few months- hardly even noticeable. By the time he even realised, all the vibrancy of the world had been sucked away. Bright yellows became muddled and started to look as ayellow marker does when it runs over black ink. When he looked outside he saw dusty looking trees instead of the fresh green of spring. Steve was dying and Bucky sure had a painful way of knowing it.
Blue was one of the first to go completely. When he looked in the mirror that morning, he didn't stare into the deep blue eyes he'd grown used to. They were back to how he'd known them before meeting Steve. His first thought then was that Steve's eyes were also blue, and, with a twist in his gut, realised he'd never again see how deep like an ocean they were. He didn't want to think about the fact that within a matter of time Steve's eyes would close and he'd never see them open again.
No matter what though, he couldn't let on what was happening. Steve'd been told he was dying- it wasn't like he was completely unaware of that. But with his stubborn ways, the punk always insisted he'd be doing backflips out of that hospital. There was no way Bucky could let himself crush that incentive.
"I'm stronger than this," Bucky nodded, feigning agreement as he looked into Steve's dead grey eyes. He couldn't bring himself to speak past the lump forming in his throat, "Been sick before, Buck, so there's no way I'll be letting this cancer get the better of me. Just watch- in a coupla' weeks, I'll be right back home. With you, where I belong."
Bucky could only laugh, though a short and bitter one it was. This was so like Steve: insisting he could win all these battles when he obvious stood no chance. It was one of those endearing parts of him Bucky had fallen in love with. The doctor said he was in denial.
So whenever he asked about Bucky's colours, the younger man would smile and lie, then watch as Steve's face fell into relief. He always felt like his gut was being wrenched when conversations went there.
He couldn't bring himself to tell the truth, more for his own benefit than Steve's. He knew he was being selfish and giving the other false hope, but somehow it helped him to cope. It was like he thought ignoring the issue would make it disappear completely. That didn't work.
The first time Steve asked, months ago, had been a disaster. Bucky had been sitting at the sick man's bed-side, chin resting on his hand and elbow on small fold away table holding what was leftover from that day's lunch. They'd been chatting and laughing, Steve's eyes crinkling at the corners and Bucky's shoulders shaking. They talked about whatever they could think of to keep the mood up, because lets face it- they weren't in the most pleasing environment for a conversation.
Bucky went on and on, with Steve interjecting every so often with a question or sarcastic remark. He told Steve about Michael from junior high, who finally asked that gal of his to marry. They talked about how Bucky's cat shredded his drapes (again). It poured so hard last night, he practically had to swim to get to his car. The neighbourhood kids had a blast stomping in mud puddles. There was a break-in at the shop down the street. Mister Turner cut all the blossoms from his deceased wife's garden and chucked them in the bin.
That last bit of news had left an eerie silence in the room. They both understood the reason behind what he did with the flowers. The old man's wife left, along with his colour; and looking at monochrome flowers she'd planted was downright depressing. Neither one of them said anything for a moment, and Bucky was wondering if he should just pick up the conversation somewhere else, but Steve beat him to it.
He swallowed thickly and gripped his blanket tight, mumbling, "You can still see mine right?" There was a tremor in his voice, one that made Bucky's heart do a flop into his stomach. Why did he have to bring them to that subject?
He looked to the other's dull, grey eyes and flinched at the question. Of course with his arm on the table beside him, a clatter of dish wear on tile soon followed. Steve sat up quick in his bed, eyeing the brown-haired man with worry. Bucky just laughed boisterously, shaking his head and muttering about what a dolt he was. He smiled a little too wide and the thundering sound of his heart echoed in his ears, "You think I wouldn't tell you? 'Course I can see 'em- clear as day, in fact!"
That time he knew Steve believed him. He continued to believe him for a long time, until one day, Bucky couldn't tell the difference between blue and green when Steve asked for a particular coloured pencil. He hesitated before picking one up and giving a brief prayer that it was correct.
"Uh...Buck, I said green," Shit.
"Oh. Oh, you didn't ask for... For um...?"
Steve sighed and shook his head, disappointment flashing over his face, "No, I don't need blue. Not for this one," he muttered, tapping a finger against the sheet of paper in his lap, well more aggressive than necessary.
From then on it was clear that both men where lying about the situation, both to each other and themselves.
Even so, Bucky wasn't prepared when it happened, not long after he got off work that night.
He'd just finished working, bagging groceries as was in his job description. The pay wasn't much but it helped to fill the gaps in the bills where Steve could no longer. Work was slow that day, leaving him heavy lidded and drowsy with boredom by the time his shift ended.
Natasha, who worked the cash register at his station, clapped a hand on his broad shoulder, jolting him back to alertness and waved her phone at him. "Clint's having a get-together at his place tonight. Think you can come?"
Her lips were pulled into a thin, red smile. The corner twitched when Bucky gave a sluggish 'I dunno'. She clearly wasn't satisfied with the answer. In fact, Bucky knew she wouldn't be satisfied with any answer until he agreed to go. She was always going out of her way to drag his moping ass out of the house, especially now since they found out Steve... was sick. It was like an unspoken rule that they wouldn't mention the cancer, but her intentions were obvious. Why did he even bother putting up a fight if he knew he'd end up seated on Barton's couch within the hour?
"It's Christmas Eve; I'm not letting you spend the holiday getting drunk alone in some bar. That's something you do with friends," She dragged out the last syllable, putting an emphasis on the word 'friends', "There'll be booze. Lots of it. Later we can go up to see Steve," She added through pursed lips.
Bucky let out a heavy sigh, not wanting to go, but he gave in despite so. At least he wouldn't have to spend any money on drinks. Anyway, he'd been planning to visit right after work but figured going a little later wouldn't cause any harm since the other wouldn't be going anywhere.
He was proved wrong within twenty minutes of arriving at Barton's apartment. They were having a decent time, cracking jokes at each other's expense and getting into the festive mood. Tony had smacked a Santa hat on Bucky's head the moment he walked in the door. Bucky didn't like the man that much, but he was one of Steve's friends so he could pretend to get along. It was amazing what he'd put up with for Steve's sake, even with the blond man not being there.
Someone was hollering about a mistletoe as two unsuspecting people stepped underneath it. Bucky turned his attention to the cup in his hand, the golden liquid a murky hue. The cup itself was more brown looking than red like he new it was supposed to be.
Then there was a strain on his eyes and the bland colours that were there disappeared. Bucky felt his body go rigid for a moment; his hand shook, sloshing colourless beer from his cup and wetting the grey carpet at his feet. He looked up and tried to say something but succeeded only in making a sound from the back of his throat, a cross of a growl and a whine. Suddenly the floor came flying up and he couldn't see and he felt water on his face and shirt. Someone was screaming and it took a while for his ears to register that it was his own wailing voice.
A few people dropped to their knees beside him; he felt hands and someone asked what was happening. Bucky couldn't differentiate between the voices around him, or the bodies or questions. Everything was happening miles away from where he was at that moment. It all sounded distant and unfocused, like a radio coming in with static, managing a few clear words here and there.
He couldn't bring himself to respond to anyone; to announce that the world was black and white again. He didn't want to say anything actually, just to scream and wail and beg to see something, just one little bit of colour. Panic rose in his chest as he tore his head around, raking his eyes across the room for any shade of pigment. It was all grey, different shades of the same bleak colour. Steve was gone. Dead.