Steve’s shield defines him in the public eye. It’s the one thing that people recognize most about Captain America. On the surface it was a red, silver and blue piece of vibranium that had been strapped to the super soldier’s arm and a spinning disc that hit its targets with alarming precision. Beneath that however, it was the symbol of freedom and strength to the American people, a piece of American iconography as ingrained in the public mind as the Statue of Liberty and the Alamo. Bucky had never realized the kind of strength it took to bear the shield and the one time he tried, it had caused him to be thrown from a speeding train.
But Steve isn’t just his shield, and Bucky knows that better than most. He’s kind and gentle, compassionate and caring. He’s all things good and pure. Steve loves unconditionally; something Bucky is privileged enough to know for a first-hand fact. His eyes fall on the single gold plate that winds the entire way around the ring finger of his cybernetic hand, mind flashing back to the day they’d exchanged vows on top of Stark Tower. They were joined only by the members of The Avengers team, the way Steve had wanted it. He had said that their marriage shouldn’t matter to anyone other than themselves, and their friends; whatever the public would say, they would say. That was the way things worked these days, it seemed. Bucky’s flesh thumb runs along the shining ring, and a saddened smile graces his lips.
Steve is the greatest man he’d ever known, the one person Bucky had always looked up to, even when Steve was just a little scrap. Fearless and bull-headed, Steve wasn’t ever afraid to run head long into a fight with someone three times his size. Sure it usually ended with a bloodied nose and split lip, but little Steve never backed down. Bucky can’t count the number of times that he’d hauled the punk out of a brawl before he got the pulp beaten out of him. He always knew that Steve was destined for greatness, and he was right. Steve is Captain America, one of the greatest soldiers in history.
But as Bucky looks to the nightstand, where a picture of the two of them sits in a black and silver frame, his heart shatters over again.
Steve is dead.
He was shot several times on the courthouse steps and there wasn’t a damn thing Bucky could do to save him. Steve died, and Bucky wasn’t there. Steve died, and Bucky didn’t even get to say good-bye. So He dons the uniform never meant for him — blue and red, with a big white star on the chest — and picks up the shield he was never supposed to wield.
Steve’s shield had defined him. It was the beacon of hope in a sea of despair. It was the northern star that leads the way home. Steve was the shield. Steve was everything. His everything, and now he was gone... Like so many stars in the night sky when the sun rears its head at dawn.
Bucky holds the shield in both hands, looking down at that familiar paint job. His eyes close and a heavy tear spills down his lashes, landing with a dull drip on the metal below. As he straps the shield to his arm, he takes one last look at the photo beside the bed, then to the gold plate on his finger. He knows that on the inside of it, close to his palm, Stark had etched his and Steve’s mantra to one another, a mark that matched the one that ran around the inside of Steve’s wedding band.
Bucky looks back to the picture, taking one last, long look at his lovers face and he sighs. “I’ll fight for you pal.” He swallows thickly, before turning his eyes skyward even at more tears run down his cheeks. “Till the end of the line.”