Steve can hear a commotion in the alley ahead and he slows, shifting his grip on the shotgun. Not for the first time he wishes he still had his shield. He peers around the corner.
There's a man at the end of the alley, hard pressed by five of those... things. In one gloved hand he has a machete, in the other a silenced 9mm. At his feet there are a number of bodies--he's made a fair accounting of himself already--but it's clear he's not going to last much longer. There's something strangely familiar about the way he moves, something uncanny that jolts Steve's memory. Bucky, he thinks. It's Bucky.
But no. It's not, it can't be. Bucky fell to his death seventy-odd years ago; there mightn't have been a corpse to find--and god knows he looked--but Steve knew no one could survive a fall like that. Even he couldn't survive a fall like that. And if Bucky had, somehow, he'd be an old, old man by now, not this reflection of Steve's own existing youth. So Steve knows it's not plausible, but the man moves like Bucky, even looks like Bucky from this angle (a flash of memories: Bucky strapped to Zola's table; Bucky shouting "No, not without you!" over a gap too wide; Bucky in the weak sunlight, filthy and pale and drawn but alive) and Steve? Steve can't.
He just can't.
It's not that even without the shield and the uniform he's still Captain America, and some things never change. There is enough of his best friend in this man for it not to even cross Steve's mind to leave him to his fate.
Steve charges into the alley.
At the sound of his footsteps the man's head whips around, desperation scrawled across his blood-spattered face, and stunned, Steve thinks: It's... oh god. It is, it has to be--
The man's eyes widen. Then he says "...Steve?" in Bucky's voice.
Everything Steve remembers about Bucky blazes in his memory and he stops in his tracks, the stupidest thing to do right now. He doesn't normally short circuit when he overthinks; even when distracted, the super serum enhancements usually keep his body going, independent of what his brain might be doing. It's even saved his life on occasion.
But this. This is... No.
As Steve watches, the man--Bucky, it is Bucky, but how...?--steps back, steps on one of the bodies sprawled on the ground and falls. The creatures swarm over him, filthy hands outstretched to rip the flesh from his body.
"No!" Steve cries. His voice rings loud in the narrow confines of the alley, loud after Bucky's grunts and the groans and slobbering of the creatures.
They stop in their forward surge, turning to Steve and starting towards him. He swallows and raises his gun but his gaze is again drawn past the pack to where Bucky is still on the ground, Steve watching as Bucky shoots the creature that ignored the distraction in the face, shoving the corpse off him.
Steve forces himself to look away from Bucky, to deal with the creatures shuffling towards him (they're closer than expected, they move faster than the ones Steve's been dealing with; they're... fresher, and even as a thought the word makes his stomach churn). He takes three down with ease as Bucky tackles the final one to the ground, twisting as it falls, jamming the muzzle of the suppressor up under its chin and pulling the trigger. The gun pops and gore spatters across the ground.
There's a pause, a silence that stretches out after the echoes of the shotgun have died, broken only by the harsh, jagged rasp of Bucky's breathing. He's still crouched over the corpse, head hanging and braced on his hands, and Steve can't move, can't speak, can't do anything at all but stare at him.
Then Bucky looks up.
He's filthy, but the curl of hair falling over his forehead, the clear blue-grey of his eyes, the hint of a smirk that on anyone else would be a sneer--it's all painfully familiar. "We gotta stop meeting like this, Steve," he says. "You comin' to my rescue all the time, people are gonna talk." The smirk broadens because fuck, who is going to talk? Is there even anyone left?
Bucky sits back on his heels. "What? Cat got your tongue?" He pushes himself to his feet, a move that works for about two seconds before he staggers and Steve leaps forward to catch him. Steve finds himself clutching Bucky close and feels Bucky grip him tightly in return. One of them is shaking, maybe they both are, and Steve feels the swell and burn of tears in the back of his throat as he remembers all the grief, all the nightmares that couldn't be washed away with a bottle of bourbon.
'It's not your fault,' Peggy had told him, but words were hollow when all Steve could think about were the things he should have done to save Bucky's life. He might've been the Army's super soldier, might be the first Avenger with S.H.I.E.L.D., but inside the enhanced body, Steve was (is) still that boy from Brooklyn.
"Oh hell, Steve..." Bucky's voice is sudden and broken, muffled against Steve's neck. The swagger has dropped away and he shifts, his arm tight around Steve's shoulders, his wrist a pressure against the back of Steve's neck. Steve presses his face against Bucky's hair, closes his eyes.
It's ridiculous, having this emotional reunion in an alley full of dead things, but Steve's too overwhelmed to care. He needs this. He thinks Bucky needs this.
He... he hopes Bucky needs this.
After a moment Bucky lets out a breath and lets Steve go, pushing away a little as he steps back. His eyes are glossy and reddened (no redder than Steve's) but there's challenge in the stubborn set of his chin as he looks up.
"I looked for you," is all Steve can say, helpless. "I went back. Before they sent me after Schmidt, I made Howard take me back and I looked for you. I couldn't stand to just leave you out there all alone, Bucky. I w--" He stops, rubs at his mouth a moment with his knuckles to halt the trip of words. "I wanted to bring you home."
Bucky softens. "'Course you did," he says. He holds Steve's gaze for a handful of heartbeats before shaking his head and looking away, holstering his gun and casting about for the machete he dropped when he was swarmed. Steve wants to ask how he survived, how he can be here--now--like this, but the words catch in his throat as Bucky bends and picks up the machete, wiping the blade clean on the filthy rags of one of the corpses. He sheathes it.
"So. You coming, Cap? Or you got a better place to be?" The smirk is back, accompanied by a raised eyebrow. Steve would believe the lip more if it wasn't for the still reddened skin around his eyes.
Then Steve does something that doesn't make sense (it does) and he doesn’t know what possesses him to do it (he knows), but he takes a few quick steps forward and cups Bucky's face in his hands. Cups his face and stoops a little to close the distance, cups his face and stoops a little and presses his mouth to Bucky's and kisses him, hard and desperate with everything that he's forced down deep inside for too long. Bucky stills and Steve waits, painfully tense for the moment when Bucky shoves him away (pulls him closer).
He does neither and Steve straightens, feeling foolish for his presumption that Bucky might feel whatever it is that Steve feels, but relieved he hasn't been rejected, too. The foolish feeling lasts less than a heartbeat when Steve sees Bucky's hand pausing in reaching for him even as he'd pulled back. Then: "Shit," and Bucky shoves Steve aside, snatching the shotgun from Steve's lax fingers. He doesn't shoot but swings it like a bat and the creature's skull caves in under the butt with a wet thud.
"Fucking zombies," Bucky says. "C'mon, I've got a place we can go. This'll all draw 'em like flies." He thrusts the gun back into Steve's hands, absently wiping his mouth with the back of his wrist in a delicate, quick movement, before beckoning Steve to follow.
The place Bucky leads Steve towards is an apartment tower. The bottom floors have been trashed, windows smashed out like jagged teeth. The stench of decay is strong around the doorway and Steve gags when he sees the two, maybe three rotted corpses propped against the near wall. "Why...?"
"Once the decay goes so far," Bucky says, "seems the zombies just don't want to feed on 'em, so it keeps them away. C'mon, just through here."
"Is this where we're stopping?" Steve says with revulsion.
Bucky flashes a crooked grin, before checking the magazine in his gun. Even with the protection of the rotting corpses, he doesn't lack caution and Steve falls in behind as they advance through the foyer, cluttered with rubbish and rubble to the stairwell. "Four floors up," he says. "Let's do it like it's the old days."
When Steve nods, Bucky places a finger to his lips, easing the door open. Steve advances past him and they leapfrog up the stairs. It's easy, it is like the old days, Steve thinks, as they fall into a familiar routine. It's even more instinctive than his training with the Avengers made his actions as Captain America, because this goes beyond that, back to the past that forged him into the man he is today.
As they move past a corpse Steve's boot slips in something slimy and reddish on the stairs and he grunts, lurching forward, hand slapping out for the rail. "Steve," Bucky hisses.
"I'm okay, I'm just--" Of course he's okay, he's Captain America. It'd take more than a slip in some vile fluids to take him down.
The look Bucky gives him is part amused, part scornful. He points to the stairwell door, a big "4" next to the wire-glass panel.
"Oh." Steve flushes.
His embarrassment is forgotten quickly as the creak of the door opening alerts a creature--zombies, Bucky calls them, and they're a lot like the things with the same name in those movies that Clint had shown him. The thing shuffles forward in a desperate, hungry lurch and Bucky darts past him; he's the one who is quicker now, fleet footed and deft as he swings the machete. Steve raises his gun as Bucky ducks under its outstretched arm and steps around, the machete cutting deep into the zombie's throat. It pulls up short and Bucky kicks it off the blade and when it falls to the floor, he stomps hard until its face caves in.
"This way," he says, like nothing happened but Steve is a little shocked. Bucky had always been an exceptional soldier, but the sheer efficiency of this kill is something new. Steve can sense there's so much more to Bucky now than he knows: the ruthlessness, the violence and the anger; the brittle sharpness that underlies everything he says... it's nothing Steve recognises.
At the end of the hallway next to a broken window is an elevator shaft, the doors wrenched open in a black gaping hole. Steve leans out and looks up; he can see a light four or five floors up. "There?" Steve says.
Bucky just grins, leaping across to catch the elevator cable and pull himself up, hand over hand. Steve shrugs and follows. Any grease that was on the cable is long gone. They don't quite make it to the next open door, but the light that it lets in reveals the darker square of a shaft that Bucky wriggles through. "Might be too tight a fit for your shoulders, Cap," he taunts.
It's not. Just.
Steve's got a bit of a nervous gasp for air thing going on by the time they reach the end of the shaft because it really is a tight fit, and the hand curled around Bucky's ankle as they crawl along is both so he doesn't get kicked in the face and as something of a reassurance that Bucky is still there with him, not just a noise in the dark.
"We're here," Bucky murmurs and Steve's fingers tighten a moment. He can see the glimmer of light around Bucky's shoulders, watches as he struggles out of the narrow shaft, catches the glint of his eyes, the flash of teeth as he turns and offers a hand to assist Steve.
There's something odd about the grip of Bucky's hand, something Steve can't pinpoint. No time to focus on it though, as he clambers out of the shaft, trying to be as quiet as he can. They're in a small plant room, and the shaft is for elevator maintenance.
"Don't tell me the great Captain America is tired from a little exercise? What did they do to you while I was gone?"
It's the opening Steve has been waiting for; he can't help but blurt out: "What happened, Bucky?"
"Zombies, Steve," Bucky says. He reaches for the gate by the shaft and it swings closed on silent hinges, flipping the catch that the creatures--should they make it into the shaft--wouldn't have the manual dexterity to open. "The dead coming back to life. You mean you didn't notice?"
"That's not what I meant," Steve says.
The sharp-eyed look Bucky throws him shows he knows it too, and he sighs, reaches out and grabs Steve by the sleeve, yanking open the door and shoving Steve through and into the hallway. "Don't want to talk about it," he says curtly. The verbal brick wall is familiar, at least. That's a relic of Steve's Bucky, never wanting to talk about any of the things that made him uncomfortable. "Go on, go."
This place must be safe, Steve surmises, because Bucky's not making any effort to keep his voice down, nor is he moving with any caution. "Okay," Steve says. "The creatures, then."
"Zombies," Bucky corrects, then pauses, thinking. "About a month and a half ago there were reports of a flu knocking people down real quick across the country. A week after that New York was put under quarantine--not like it is now, though. But a week after that, well, we got all this. Don't know why, dunno how." He heads back to the stairwell, taking the steps two at a time. "Where were you when it started?"
"Must have been when I was on a mission near--in Alaska. I should still be there, but I finished the job early. The headquarters had been shut down and sealed by the time I got back and it was--well, all hell had broken loose. Then the power went down and I had no way of getting the news out." The prototype jet he'd used to travel between New York and Alaska had been sealed into the rooftop hanger along with almost all of his gear when the electricity cut out. Steve had, for a moment, suspected foul play before realising he was just bang out of luck. He still can't believe he'd missed all the signs on the flight in; the unusually high number of smoke columns and the lack of anything resembling normal New York life hadn't registered in his tired brain that something was seriously wrong.
"A bitch to be low-tech, eh?" Another three flights of stairs and Bucky flicks the catch on the door, pushing it open. "Where's your precious Avenger team?" There's something in Bucky's tone. Not resentment, not quite. But it reminds Steve of the moment after he'd rescued Bucky from HYDRA, once they'd marched back to the camp, him and Bucky surrounded by the freed men and Bucky had looked at him with an amused bitterness seeping through his pride. He'd said, "Hey! Let's hear it for Captain America," in almost exactly the same tone. No one else had known different, they'd taken it for the cheer it was.
He hadn't heard the tone then, but he recognises it now. It hurts.
"I haven't been able to get in contact," he mutters.
Bucky laughs, once. "Low-tech," he repeats, pushing open the door to apartment 910.
"Something like that--oh." Steve stops in his tracks, goggling at the room. The apartment has been converted to a weapons locker. While none of the toys here are any more high-tech than what could be picked up in a police station or a gun shop, the scale is impressive.
"Like it?" Bucky turns, grinning, and spreads his arms.
Steve forgets tones as he looks around, wide-eyed and impressed. "I--yeah, yeah I do." He picks up a repeating crossbow and hefts it. "It's the perfect... zombie hunting arsenal." He watches Bucky strip off his gloves and pick over the guns.
"It'd want to be perfect. We worked hard to put this together for the survivors."
"We?" Steve asks archly, teasing. "You're part of a 'we'?"
Bucky stills, closing his eyes a moment. Steve instantly regrets opening his mouth when he sees the tightening of Bucky's mouth, the convulsive movement of his throat. "Yeah. I was. But it's just me now."
"Yeah," Bucky says shortly. "So'm I. But there's no point dwelling on that, right?" He shrugs off the mood. "Get what you need, 'cause we gotta move."
"We're not staying here?" It surprises Steve. It seems safe enough. God knows they'd have enough ammo here to fight off the fiends of hell should they come.
Bucky just shakes his head. "I've got a place. It's better for us to go there. There are some who won't come by for supplies if they know others are still here."
"Fair enough," Steve says and reaches for a pistol. Hawkeye's trained him up on the crossbow, so he's confident for it to be his main weapon, but he'd like back up just in case. He abandons the shotgun; it looks well and good in movies, but you have to be entirely too close to the creatures for a satisfactory result.
He glances back at Bucky just as Bucky picks up a rifle and gently runs his fingers over the scope, then along the barrel. Steve inhales sharply as he's assailed by more memories, Bucky as his guardian angel on a dozen hillsides, keeping Steve safe. Of late nights in hideouts, sitting shoulder to shoulder as Bucky meticulously cleaned the gun, all deft hands and economical movements.
"Besides," Bucky says, his tone lighter, "I've got something at my place I think you'll like, too."
"That I'll like? Like what?" But no amount of convincing will get Bucky to give up his secret. It never worked when they were boys, why Steve thought it would work now he has no idea.
"You mentioned survivors?"
"Mm. There's a couple hundred of us in this district alone. The number's falling though, between suicides and mistakes." Slinging a pack he'd filled with weapons onto his shoulders, Bucky drags open the window and clambers out onto the narrow ledge. Steve's not so sure about the wisdom of running around on window ledges seven stories up, but he'll still follow Bucky's lead. Bucky's the one with the experience here; Steve had been running on adrenaline and no real plan. His training kept him alive, in ammo and food and safety, but surprisingly nothing in the Avengers handbook dealt with what to do in the event of the zombie apocalypse which, Steve has to admit, is just ridiculous since they have contingencies for everything else. He's going to have some firm words with Colonel Fury about that.
As he inches along the window ledge, he inhales sharply when he sees the zip line extending from the corner of the building to one further down the street.
Zip lines. You gotta be kidding.
Bucky glances back at him and for a moment all the years drop away and it's just like they're on that frozen Swiss mountainside before everything changed forever. "Sometimes I dream about snow," he says, "and Coney Island. Isn't that strange?"
Before Steve can answer, he's hooked up and zipped across to the next building. As Steve grips the windowsill perhaps a little harder than necessary, tense as he watches Bucky flawlessly do something Steve's sure he's done a dozen times already since this--since whatever this is started. Then Steve notices the series of zip lines extending from various buildings. He has no doubt that they link up into a chain providing ground-free access right along the street and suspects that the stairs in each building have been blown out below the zip line level, just as getting here in this building had required being able to climb an elevator cable.
It's a clever system of travel, even if it does send a chill up Steve's spine.
They travel through five different buildings (Steve tense every time), each one with a different cache--ammo, food, general supplies, medicines--before Bucky indicates they need to head to the ground again. The sun is starting to descend, the late afternoon light turning golden on Bucky's skin and for a moment Steve can't look away. He's filthy, but Steve can't remember a time when he looked better. Steve wants to kiss him again and again and if that isn't the most inappropriate thought at this point in time, he's not sure what would be.
"You all right?"
"Maybe I am tired," Steve says shortly, looking away, because he doesn't want Bucky to read anything into his expression, but also because it's true. His super-human serum-boosted muscles can go all day and night, but he's been switched on for most of the time since he returned to New York and without a decent amount of sleep and proper food his metabolism is rapidly running out of steam.
Bucky doesn't make a smartass comment at that, just says, "Not far to go now."
And it's not far. They rappel out the window of the last building, carefully dropping the last few metres to the ground. A few zombies loiter near the end of the street, about two hundred metres away. Steve raises his gun just in case, but Bucky tugs his arm. "This way," he says. "Don't worry about them. Not worth the noise."
He starts off at a soft-footed jog towards the next corner, once again with gun in hand. Unable to prevent one last, concerned glace at the zombies at the end of the street and missing the protection of the shield on his back, Steve follows. Bucky leads him around the corner and into a street full of broken down or burned out cars, hissing, "Keep an eye out," as he slows to a walk.
There's a new tension through Bucky's shoulders as he holds his gun ready, tension ratcheted up to an intensity level Steve's never seen before.
Bucky raises his fist--halt--then points. When Steve eases to his left, he can see there are two more zombies in the street near the front of a burned out car, feeding on what Steve thinks (hopes) is the carcass of a dog. He sights with his crossbow as Bucky raises his pistol. They don't even need to coordinate, history does that for them and the two creatures fall almost silently. Bucky flashes a grin and Steve can only think dumbly about how bright and handsome he is.
The creatures swarm out of the alley without advance notice; Bucky doesn't see them and they move too quickly for Steve to give warning beyond an aborted shout. Bucky falls under their hands, eyes widening and smile falling away.
Steve doesn't even stop to think, because if he does he knows he'll fall prey to the sudden shock of terror that he's going to lose Bucky again right now. He lets instinct take over and fires a bolt through the top of the head of the closest zombie, stepping up and booting the next one in the face as hard as he can. There's the sickening crunch of bone and cartilage and its head snaps backwards with a spray of blood. Bucky's struggling with three of them pinning him to the ground--Steve sees a flash of bared, blackened teeth dripping foul saliva through long hanks of filthy hair as the creature (by god, it was a woman once) lunges for flesh. Fear bubbles up and the next crossbow bolt is off target, hitting the thing in the shoulder--nearly striking Bucky's hand as he struggles to hold it back. But the impact rocks it enough for Bucky to bring up his gun and shoot it right in the face.
He's quick then, elbowing another in the face harder than Steve thought Bucky had in him. Steve's on the next with a leap and a bound, ripping it away from Bucky and ending it with the last bolt between the eyes. It takes a few wobbly steps forward, before what's left of its brain realises it's dead for good and it crumples to the ground. Steve hears the smack of something hard hitting flesh and whirls, drawing a pistol with his free hand, to see Bucky straddling the one he punched, pistol-whipping what's left of it to a pulp.
"I think it's dead... Hey, hey Bucky, come on." Steve tentatively touches Bucky's shoulder and Bucky rears back, staggering to his feet, raising his gun. He breathes hard, eyes wild, and it takes a nervous moment for him to recognise Steve and lower the gun.
"Swarmed twice in one fucking day, how 'bout that?" Bucky eventually says with a humourless laugh, glancing around. He takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly. "What a day. Fuck." There's blood and other things Steve doesn't want to think about all over him, on his face and in his hair. "Come on, we're almost there." He wipes the gore off the butt of his gun on a corpse and then grabs Steve's arm, dragging him away from the corpses to a building across the road crudely spray painted with a red and white star.
There's a dead end alley with a fire escape. Bucky strips off his gloves again and stuffs them in his back pocket. "C'mon. Boost me up, hero."
Bucky's bolt hole is on the sixth floor, and like with the other buildings, requires some extra work to get to. There's every evidence the fire escape has come out second best with some kind of explosive device around the fourth floor, and they have to scale the brick wall next to it using the handy spikes someone has driven in between the mortar. "Show me a zombie with the motor skills to climb this," Bucky says, always reaching up for the next spike with his right hand, "and I'll deserve what I get."
Still, Steve's not at all surprised to find a series of booby traps and barricades from the window to the door of Bucky's apartment, zombie motor skills or not.
The apartment door has also been heavily reinforced, a heavy bar dropping into place when the door closes behind them so that even if any of the creatures got into the building and survived all the traps, even the weight of a hallway full of them couldn't bust the door down.
Bucky heads straight through to the living area, setting his backpack of weaponry down on the floor next to a nest of blankets and pillows. He scrubs a hand over his grimy face and sighs. "I'll find you some more blankets," he says. "There's no bed--the owner of this place kicked it on the mattress so I tossed it out the window and turned the base to firewood." Then he sees the dried blood on his hand and pulls a face. "Gonna clean up first," he mutters, more to himself than anything.
There are four carboys of water stacked by the door, another two--one empty, one half empty--on the table next to them. "Help yourself," Bucky says, jerking his head at them. "Here's soap and a towel." He tosses the items to Steve and picks up a bowl, sloshes some water into it and strips out of his jacket, flipping his suspenders down and shrugging off his stained shirt.
Steve doesn't mean to watch. Not really. But even if he ignores the fact that he never wants to look away in case Bucky disappears again, there's something about Bucky like this, just in his trousers (though they're a little tighter than Steve's used to), his suspenders hanging loose around his hips. Steve watches as Bucky washes his skin, watches him scrub water through his hair.
It's just like the old days, right down to the way Steve tries not to let his gaze linger on the small of Bucky's back, or on the flex and shift of muscle as he moves. There are scars across Bucky's body now that are new to Steve but they don't repulse him. He wants to know where each one of them came from, wants to know what history he missed.
Then Steve notices the weird absence of scarring on Bucky's left arm, the way the skin looks too... perfect; he opens his mouth to ask, just as Bucky glances up and smiles. "Here," Bucky says as he tosses his towel on the table. "Got this for you. Think you musta lost it somewhere along the way. Bet you can guess how surprised I was when I found this under a pile of rotting meat."
He stoops, picking up a large object wrapped in a torn blanket and Steve is stunned when he unwraps the shield.
Captain America's shield.
"Oh Christ," he says. "Oh Bucky." He grabs the shield with one hand, reaches out and hooks Bucky in with the other. Bucky resists a moment before he lets Steve pull him close and when his arms go around Steve he feels grounded, like this is a better reunion than their first meeting at street level (like he's home). "I missed you," Steve says, his voice husky and catching in his throat. "No one could ever--none of them were--it was never the same once you were gone."
"Wow. You are damn fond of that shield," Bucky says against Steve's shoulder, laughter bubbling up in his tone. It's good to hear.
Steve cuffs him around the ear. "I meant you, jerk." He pulls him close again, pressing his nose into Bucky's hair, his lips moving against Bucky's temple as he says, "You really have no idea."
It's Bucky who lets go first, muttering, "Dunno, maybe I do." He looks awkward that he even spoke, endearingly so, and when Steve opens his mouth--maybe to tease, maybe not--Bucky turns away sharply, two or three quick steps to the kitchen and out of sight. Steve runs his hand around the rim of his shield absently, watching the empty doorway. Bucky doesn't come back.
Eventually Steve stops fondling his shield and sets it down by his knapsack. He hadn't been given a choice between the shield or his life: the creatures had come on him too fast. When he'd equipped enough to go back, the creatures had all been dead and shield was gone. He now knew why.
God, what were the odds?
Steve can't help one last fond pat. "So, uh," he eventually calls, reaching for the water, "so what do we do now?"
There's a pause, banging around of pots and pans, then Bucky speaks. "Now? Dinner."
That... wasn't exactly what Steve meant. But dinner, it turns out, is a fried up canned ham and rehydrated vegetables, followed by a couple of sad looking oranges with just enough juice to make a mess.
Steve licks the last of it from his fingers. "What now?" he asks again.
"You're going to do the dishes," Bucky says with a grin, "then I dunno about you, but I'm going to bed."
He moves to push himself to his feet and Steve laughs, says, "No, no, that's not what I meant. I meant... here." And he gestures around them. "What happens now? What do we do now? Where do we go?"
"I can take you to the quarantine zone tomorrow," Bucky says and settles back against the wall again, propping his arms on his knees.
"We can get there in a day?" Steve asks, startled. He'd thought... well, he wasn't sure what he thought. That all of New York was an apocalyptic zombie-riddled wasteland, populated with tiny pockets of survivors, maybe. From what he's seen, he's not sure it's that far-fetched.
"Yeah. A lot of the city is fucked, but there are safe areas that lead out to the country. I'll take you to the wall tomorrow and once your people ID you, it won't be difficult for you to get out. Hell, Cap, they'll probably think you even more a hero for it."
Steve stares at Bucky. It sounds like Bucky won't be coming with him, which is absolutely inconceivable. He has to come with Steve. They were a team, always had been and--now Steve had found Bucky again--always would be. He sure as hell didn't find Bucky in the middle of a zombie apocalypse just to let him go again. And if there's anything Steve is a firm believer in it's that no man will be left behind.
Steve will take Bucky with him even if he has to drag him kicking and screaming through the quarantine zone.
"What?" Bucky cocks his head.
"I'm not leaving you here." The words come out unexpectedly aggressively.
"You don't need me." This time Bucky does push himself to his feet. "I sure as hell don't need you."
Steve's on his feet too, before he can even think. There's something sharp in the air and Bucky's gone from relaxed to angry in seconds; Steve might not know why but he's ready to react. "You never did," Steve says. It's not true--so much of Bucky's identity when they were kids (because they'd been kids right up until Bucky went to war) had been tied up in defending Steve from the bullies; he'd been Steve's protector, his hero, his saviour, no matter how much Steve might have denied it. He mightn't have needed Steve in the way Steve needed him, but it was a need all the same.
Even 70 years ago, in that too-short time between the rescue and the fall when they didn't know where the changes in Steve left that intrinsic part of their friendship, Steve never felt like Bucky still didn't need him in some way.
Bucky's right about it now. He doesn't need Steve anymore. And Steve doesn't know what to do with that.
"No," he says, a sour taste in his mouth. "You don't need me, Bucky. But I need you--"
"You don't. You've got plenty of people now, Steve. The Avengers. A whole bunch of juiced up super heroes, just like you, all ready to watch Captain America's back. You don't need an--" He stops, scrunching his face up a moment against a flicker of pain. "You don't need me," Bucky corrects himself. Below the anger there's an ugly thread of jealousy, far harsher than the kind Steve recognises from after he became Captain America. His first instinct is to brush it off as he did then, except... Except this isn't the same, this isn't Bucky being jealous of Steve's newfound form with the ladies, or the way he's passed over by everyone in favour of his best friend.
This is Bucky being jealous of others because of Steve. And frankly, Steve has no idea how he feels about that. Okay, well maybe that's not true. He feels good about it when he's pretty sure he should be feeling bad, and he should feel bad about feeling good too, but he doesn't.
"It's true," Steve says carefully, "I have a team, but that doesn't mean I don't need you, too. You're so much more to me than just back up, Bucky, and you always have been. I know you know that." He lets a hint of admonishment creep into his tone; they both know that Bucky claiming that his only place in Steve's life was to have his back is the biggest load of horse shit. "You're not replaceable."
"Is that why you kissed me?"
"What? I--what? Bucky, I don't understand--" It might feel like the question has come out of left field, but Steve knows it hasn't. Not really. Bucky was always going to ask about that, but Steve's just not ready.
"It's a simple question, Steve."
"No, it's not, I--"
"Why did you, then?"
"I--" Steve stops, running his hand through his hair. He's flustered now, by the way Bucky won't let him finish a sentence, but he knows that's just Bucky and how he's always been to get information out of Steve. Keep him off balance with sharp questions, don't let him think. It's been too long; Steve's not used to it anymore.
So he doesn't even think of lying or trying to dissemble and make it less than what it was. After all, Steve's pretty sure he hasn't made enough of an argument for Bucky to change his mind and come with him, so with nothing to lose, he says, "Because I wanted to."
Bucky grunts, his mouth in a set line, eyes unreadable. Steve hates it; he's never been able to guess what Bucky's thinking when he's like this. There's a pause and Bucky shifts from foot to foot, like he's caught Steve's nervous energy. "How long have you 'wanted to'?" he finally asks.
"For... for long enough." The years don't bear thinking. Even without the seventy years of nothing that blacks out his timeline, he's wanted to kiss Bucky ever since he could remember. If he could remember his time frozen under the ice, he's sure he'd have passed the decades wool-gathering about Bucky's mouth, too.
"Bucky, come on, why does it matter--?"
"How long?" Bucky repeats. He shoves Steve in the chest hard, and again, and Steve lets him; lets Bucky knuckle his fingers in the front of his t-shirt and bear him backwards until his shoulders slam up against the wall. "Tell me! How long, Steve? How long?"
Steve inhales sharply; the look in Bucky's eyes, the cold fury, and the tension coiled through his body. There's no way Steve should find this at all as arousing as he does. His gaze drops to Bucky's mouth (red and wet) then back up, and he can tell by the narrow look Bucky gives him that it doesn't go unnoticed.
He licks his lips. "Maybe there's a reason why I was no good with the dames when I was young," he says unsteadily. "Maybe I didn't want to be. Maybe there were reasons why... other than--" and he gestures to himself; not as he was now, as he was then. "Well. You remember."
"You never said anything. Why?"
"You were--are--my best friend! How was I supposed to tell you I was in love with you?" Oh shit. Oh shit. That's not what Steve meant to say. Not even remotely in the same ballpark. It's the truth, every word of it (and the realisation came with the uttering), but even with nothing to lose, it isn't what Steve wanted to confess.
Bucky looks like Steve's slapped him. Wide-eyed, mouth parted in astonishment. And even though Steve's still reeling from what he said himself, he still just wants to haul Bucky in and kiss the shock away. But that's what got him into this in the first place and he's not sure Bucky wouldn't actually try to kill him. So he stays there pinned between Bucky's hands and the wall, placid but resolute.
It's the truth and he's not going to take it back.
The moment stretches out like an endless road, like they could stay like this forever. Steve watches as Bucky closes his eyes and bites his lip. Feels the pressure of Bucky's knuckles change as he shifts his weight. Lets his eyes trace the curve of Bucky's collarbone up to his throat as Bucky turns his head away.
He can almost see the moment the anger drains out of Bucky, the tension going out of his shoulders as he sways forward, rests his forehead against Steve's shoulder. "Jesus, Steve," Bucky mutters, shifts in closer and Steve can hardly even breathe when Bucky flattens his hands against Steve's chest, warm through the cotton of Steve's t-shirt. Steve closes his own eyes when Bucky turns his head to press his face against Steve's neck. He desperately flattens his hands against the wall behind him so he doesn't reach out.
Then Bucky turns his head further and Steve shudders when he feels Bucky deliberately press his mouth to skin. "Bucky..." Desperation bleeds into his tone. Bucky kisses his throat, his jaw, his hand skimming over the pound of Steve's heartbeat.
Then Bucky pulls back, looking up at Steve and the heat in his gaze makes Steve whimper and helplessly close the distance between their mouths. He cups Bucky's head, careful and gentle, but Bucky's not even remotely interested in careful and gentle.
Bucky kisses him hard. One arm curls around Steve's neck and fuck, when Bucky sets his teeth into Steve's bottom lip, Steve can't hold back anymore. He hauls Bucky close, groans into Bucky's mouth when he feels Bucky press up hard against him. That breaks down any last remaining barrier and he hustles Bucky back to the nest of blankets by the wall and pushes him down.
The shirt that Bucky shrugged into after his wash has tiny, fiddly little buttons, and Steve curses in frustration as need makes his fine motor skills useless. Bucky laughs. "Here, let me help you," he says, but when he moves to undo his buttons himself, Steve tugs his hands away. He pins them to the blanket.
"No," he says, looking down at Bucky. He still can't believe this is actually happening (no regrets, he thinks fiercely, no regrets). "I want to do it."
"Don't rip my shirt."
"Might have to, to get you out of it." The thought has oodles of appeal. A quick twist of his hands and there'd be nothing stopping him from launching a full exploration of Bucky's body. Steve ducks his head down and kisses Bucky again, sliding his hands to Bucky's wrists, grip tightening instinctively when he feels Bucky try and tug free.
But Bucky makes it clear he's not going to let Steve push him around when he breaks the kiss with a wild grin, then just as easily breaks Steve's grip on his left wrist and uses Steve's astonishment to keep him off balance as he flips them both over. It's a smooth move, and Steve finds the sudden off-balanced feeling of someone else taking control (without him willingly relinquishing it first) intensely arousing.
He groans when Bucky slowly rolls his hips as he unbuttons his shirt. He shrugs it off and tosses it aside, leaning forward to slide his hands up under Steve's t-shirt. Steve reaches for him, curling one hand around the back of his head, drawing him down for another kiss, letting the other roam across Bucky's warm skin.
As Bucky's fingers flick across Steve's nipple he thinks he's never quite been so turned on. Bucky's hands are just firm enough to send lightning up his spine, for arousal to pool heavy in his balls, shift and movement chafing the thick material of his jeans against his cock. His hands wander to the front of Bucky's jeans, and there's no unco-ordination now as he pops open the button and, after hesitating a moment, runs his fingers down the fly to feel the hardness of Bucky through it.
This time Bucky groans, thrusting his hips forward against Steve's hand. "Touch me," he mutters into Steve's mouth, fingers roughly pinching at Steve's nipple.
It hurts, but it's a good hurt, and it's a spur that makes Steve draw down Bucky's fly and--oh fuck. Bucky goes bare. His cock is hot in Steve's hand, the head already wet. Steve licks at Bucky's mouth as he rubs his thumb over the head of Bucky's cock and holy shit, the way Bucky inhales sharply, the way he jerks his hips forward like he can't help it when Steve does it again.
Then it's Steve's turn to flip them over again, tugging down Bucky's trousers. He gets them as far as mid-thigh before he leans forward, takes the head of Bucky's cock into his mouth. Steve's never blown another guy (never done anything with another guy), but he's enthusiastic, and by the way Bucky pushes up into his mouth and kneads at the blankets with shaking hands, he can tell he's not doing too badly. The taste is familiar but different. Not entirely like Steve's own taste, but not that dissimilar either. Steve decides he likes it. He likes this. Bucky hot and restless beneath him, his mouth wrapped around Bucky's cock.
Then Bucky laces his fingers through Steve's hair and tugs him back up (Steve groans in the back of his throat; he'd wanted to see if he could make Bucky come, wanted to taste him come), kissing him deeply. He rolls them both over again, hands busy, and Steve remembers being dressed and then suddenly he's naked; there had to be a middle stage of 'taking off clothes' but he doesn't for the life of him remember it. From the moment Bucky kneels over him, that's all Steve cares about: bare skin on bare skin.
He grips Bucky's hips and pulls him down, gasping as their cocks slip together, Bucky still damp with spit. Steve reaches down. It's awkward, he's never done this before, and he quickly ditches it in favour of rutting up against Bucky, all needy, grasping hands and desperate whines, pressing his mouth to all the skin he can touch. It's been too long since Steve last got off and he doesn't last long, one hand on Bucky's ass, the other in his hair, crushing their mouths together in a ragged kiss as his hips jerk and he spills between them. He's still mostly hard as Bucky slithers down and licks his body clean, and when Bucky turns his attention to Steve's cock he shudders and bites down on his lips. "You like that?" Bucky asks and licks a stripe up Steve's over-sensitive cock.
Steve's eyes almost roll back in his head. "Hnnghh..."
It takes him a moment to recover after Bucky stops tormenting him, a moment to stop twitching and shifting like his whole body is over-sensitised at Bucky's touch. When he's finally managed to settle his breathing (it's embarrassing reacting like a teenager at his age, he thinks, but Bucky looks smug, so maybe it's nothing but a good thing) he can finally look up at Bucky without his eyes glazing over.
Bucky, who is so damn beautiful, kneeling over him waiting with a patience Steve would never have expected, still desperately hard.
"Let me help--" Steve reaches out eagerly, but Bucky slaps his hand away.
"Just watch," he orders in a sharp tone that sends a shiver of unexpected delight skittering up Steve's spine. Steve grins and subsides, propped up on his elbows. His grin fades almost immediately when Bucky wraps his fingers around himself and begins to jerk himself off.
The only noise is the quiver of Bucky's breath, the slick noise of his hand on his cock, only broken by the pause as he spits on his hand again. Then again when Steve lets out a soft, involuntary whimper as the back of Bucky's knuckles brush his own cock and Bucky shudders at Steve's noise, obscenely wanton now as he groans and fucks up into the curl of his hand.
Then he snatches up Steve's hand, wrapping it around his cock so they're both jerking him off even as he falls forward to brace himself on his other hand, kissing Steve deeply. If Steve hadn't just come himself this would be the tipping point, because oh god... Bucky's cock in his hand, tongue in his mouth, desperately rutting against him before he stiffens, curls in on himself and Steve's fingers are suddenly slick with come. He can feel the pulse of Bucky's cock in his hand and squeezes gently. Bucky groans in his ear, bites down hard on his collarbone. Steve hisses at the sharp pain.
"Don't," Bucky grunts, slumping against him, "s'too much."
It seems entirely too soon to Steve when Bucky rolls off him without a word, hauling the blankets over them. He curls on his side, away from Steve, and while Steve didn't expect pillow talk or anything, he's a little offended at how it feels like now they're done, Bucky's dismissed him.
Right up until the point where Bucky shuffles back so his back is pressed to Steve's side. Steve grins stupidly up at the roof.
"Hey," he says eventually. "You are coming with me tomorrow, right? ...Buck?"
His answer is a soft snore. He smiles affectionately and reaches out, gently running his hand down the length of Bucky's skin, from shoulder to hip. Perfect, he thinks, as Bucky stirs but doesn't wake. Steve leans over, presses a kiss to Bucky's shoulder then snuggles down next to him, hooking his arm around Bucky's waist.
So what, he's a cuddler.
Steve's woken by bright sunlight through shredded curtains and Bucky's already up and getting dressed. Steve rolls over, pulling the blankets around him and watches; there are bruises on Bucky's hips, on his arm, on his neck (those ones are hickies, Steve thinks with lazy, possessive satisfaction). He watches Bucky stretch out the kinks and pick up his shirt, the same one from last night with all those fiddly little buttons that Steve is embarrassed now he was too eager to be able to undo.
Not very smooth. It didn't seem to bother Bucky though.
He moves on to idly speculating how easily Bucky had been able to break his grip. They'd wrestled, before. Before the war ended, before they'd both died. It used to take all Bucky's combined strength and cunning to break Steve's hold, and even then he'd only managed it a few times. Seems he's learned some new tricks--
"You gonna lay there all day?"
"Huh?" Steve blinks.
"I said, are you gonna lay there all day?"
Steve considers it. He really does. It's easy to forget it's some kind of gruesome horror movie nightmare outside Bucky's fortress, when all he really wants to do is drag Bucky back down into the blankets and use his body as a playground.
He gets one of those sly half-smirks from Bucky that says I know exactly what you're thinking, mister. It feels strangely forward after all their history to return it with a thoroughly appraising look (openly leering at the strength and musculature of his body and down, following the dusting of body hair to the shadow where his jeans are still open, and ain't it a kick in the guts knowing Bucky goes bare under his jeans?).
He's disappointed when instead Bucky shrugs into his shirt.
Steve rolls from the blankets and to his feet, telling himself fiercely that it would be stupid to feel self-conscious over his nudity after the night before (and for all the times before that, because Bucky's seen him in the altogether entirely too many times to count over the years). Besides, now he has the body he should be proud to show off naked.
He wanders over to the water for a quick splash clean and hides a smile when he notices how Bucky's gaze follows him. If he takes a little longer to wash off, if he gives a little more attention to his abs and his thighs and his pecs, well... he needs a wash, right?
He glances under his arm to see Bucky grin. "What?" Steve says innocently.
"Nothing," Bucky says, shaking his head.
As he starts to dress, though, levity fades. His clothes are still dirty with blood spatters, and he can't find anything Bucky has on offer, or in the closets in the apartment to fit his size, so he has no choice but to pull on his clothes from the day before.
Bucky picks up his jacket; it's far worse than any of Steve's clothes, caked with gore. "Fuck," Bucky says wearily. "I really liked that jacket." He sighs, casts it aside and rummages through his pack, pulling out more clothes. Steve inhales sharply when Bucky shrugs into a jacket that, in reality, probably looks nothing like what Bucky used to wear as a Howling Commando, back in the 40s. But there's something about the cut, the shade of blue, and it's like a physical blow for Steve to see it right now.
"You all right?" Bucky asks.
"I--uh. Yeah, yeah, I'm fine," Steve mumbles, looking away. He fusses with his boots and then with tucking his shirt in. He can tell Bucky's looking at him, but he doesn't look up. He doesn't know how to look at Bucky without his loss painted all over his face.
There are three of the zombies in the street when they exit the building, sniffing around the gore-splattered site of the fight yesterday. One of the creatures seems to sparkle oddly in the sunlight and Steve is saddened, more than anything, to see that the sun is glittering off jewellery; this thing, it was a woman once, just like the one next to it was a man, still dressed in the shreds of a business suit, the stump of his once royal blue tie still around his neck.
Bucky touches a finger to his lips, then points to the third zombie, a little distance away from the other two, indicating that he'll take care of it. That leaves the man and the woman for Steve, and he raises his crossbow as Bucky lifts his rifle. The third zombie falls with the crack of Bucky's rifle and the other two turn, their simple minds unable to understand anything beyond food. Disgusted, Steve takes them down quickly.
"I don't get how they only eat each other after they're dead again..." He looks questioningly at Bucky who shrugs and grins lopsidedly.
"I'm not a scientist, Steve. Just a soldier."
Not 'just', Steve almost says, but bites his tongue. Not at all appropriate, not for now. That can wait for when they've escaped; it can be added to the list of all the things they need to talk about. As amazing as last night was (and he has to really concentrate not to distract himself with memories of Bucky's skin on his) it didn't solve even half their problems.
And then Steve wants to kick himself for making more out of a simple throwaway comment than there really is. If this is what he's going to be like now he's had a glimmer of hope, he kind of hates himself for it.
They move fairly quickly through the city--quicker than Steve had been able to travel on his own, and quicker, he's sure, than even Bucky had travelled solo. There's something about having someone there to have your back that gives them an extra edge.
A few times they have to defend themselves, but mostly they're able to slip around any of the zombies they come across. That's until they reach an alley that they have no choice but to go through, with four of the creatures milling around and in no rush to leave.
"Wait, I got this."
When Steve opens his mouth to protest Bucky shakes his head. "Cover me."
It's not showing off, what Bucky does. It's not like he's showcasing these new skills of brutality. It's just how Bucky is now, Steve realises. And he does provide cover--as unnecessary as it turns out to be--as Bucky advances forward on stealthy feet, machete in one hand, pistol in the other.
It takes only four moves to take them down and the final zombie in the alleyway has barely even turned before it falls backwards, Bucky's machete buried in its throat. It all seems to happen in slow motion, a spray of blood arcing through the air like art. Bucky yanks the machete free in another splash of gore, then shoots the creature once in the face, wipes off his machete on the filthy rags on one of the corpses and gestures for Steve to follow.
There's something about this violence with economy of movement that triggers a fiercely primal feeling in Steve which hits him with a sharp stab of lust. Hard on its heels comes intense shame, because that's not who Steve is.
He scrubs his hand through his hair, misses most of Bucky's smirk and pushes past. He feels it in the itch in his palms, but he resolutely ignores the urge to shove Bucky up against the wall and take him to pieces.
"How many cities are under quarantine, anyway?" Steve eventually asks in a soft voice to distract himself, inching up to the corner. He peers around. The street appears empty.
"No idea," Bucky says and Steve stills, closes his eyes and breathes out, because he is right on Steve's six, almost close enough for Steve to feel his breath. "The radio stopped reporting those details quickly. Before they stopped, though, I heard most of the major cities along the eastern seaboard were under some form of quarantine. Who knows how far it's spread by now?"
Steve swallows, moving slowly around the corner. It's too late now, but he realises he hadn't really wanted an answer to the question. He didn't want to know the extent. That New York was this horror-filled disaster zone was bad enough; he'd liked it better when he could pretend it was only here.
"Why haven't they cleared the quarantine zone out?"
"They debated sending the military in to clear the place block by block. It was gonna be a major operation, but then the politicians got involved." Bucky snorts with disgust. "They were protesting the 'murder', they called it, of American citizens. I think they're worried about shooting taxpayers, but if they'd spend just an hour here they'd see that there's not gonna be a whole lot of tax coming out of these corpses."
"They don't want to rescue the survivors?"
Bucky makes a noncommittal noise. "They're scared the survivors are either infected or carriers. I've heard that each day they take a small number of those who make the quarantine zone... who knows what they do to them when they get 'em out though."
"Shh, there's two." Steve points. They're shambling down the street away from Steve and Bucky. One is missing an arm that the other appears to be carrying. Or at least, it's carryingsomeone's arm. It's so ridiculous that Steve almost laughs.
Bucky touches his shoulder and points to an alley. "Leave 'em," he murmurs. "We can cut through there. Not far to go now, about two miles I make it."
Once they make the dubious safety of the alley, Bucky stops Steve with a hand around his arm. His grip is firm, urgent. "Steve. Wait a minute."
Steve looks at him questioningly. There's something serious in Bucky's eyes--something more serious than zombies, anyway, if it's at all possible for there to be something more serious than the decaying wreck of human beings coming back to life to try and eat you alive.
"Just..." Bucky wets his lips. "In case something happens--"
"No," Steve interrupts, sharp with sudden, unexpected fear. "Nothing is going to happen to you. We're almost there. Two miles, you said."
"I know what I said. But the quarantine zone, it's... worse. It's dangerous. Not just because of all the zombies."
Shaking his head, Steve says, "I'll keep you safe. I promise."
Steve turns, grabs Bucky by both arms. "I promise," he repeats. "There's no way I will risk losing you again, James. I can't--I can't go through that again. You do everything you have to do to stay safe." He never uses Bucky's real name, but it rolls off his tongue without thought. It startles Bucky, too.
"Can't promise you nothing--"
"You don't have to. If you don't, I'll make sure."
Bucky grunts, his mouth thinning before he shakes his head. "Come on," he says abruptly. "Let's go. We gotta be careful here, it's like they know freedom's ahead."
Steve sees exactly what Bucky means as they cut through two empty office blocks, three lightly populated streets and then turn the corner into what looks at first glance like an absolute nightmare. There's more of the creatures in the street than Steve's seen before; hundreds, maybe. There's a meandering line of abandoned cars and jersey barriers that provide almost continuous cover to the next corner and they take it slowly and easily. Steve's not entirely sure he breathes the whole time it takes for them to cross the wide street until they duck into the alley. He is about to sigh in relief when Bucky grabs his wrist and gestures with his pistol to the three zombies silhouetted at the end. When Steve raises his gun questioningly, Bucky shakes his head sharply, points to the fire escape.
Steve frowns. There's no way that's going to be quiet. But he trusts Bucky's lead.
It's not quiet.
The zombies turn at the clanging of their boots on the metal and shuffle towards the fire escape they'd never be able to climb even as Bucky darts across it above their heads. Steve swears as he sees Bucky bound up onto the rail and launch himself off.
And then disappear around the corner.
"Steve, there's a rope on a pulley," Bucky's voice comes back to him. "Trust me."
There's a reason why Steve is Captain America. Why he is trained the way he is. Why his body can react to situations the way it does. And he takes a breath, stops thinking and imitates Bucky's movements. It's easy. He pushes off the rail at just the right angle, his fingers find the rope and he swings around, landing neatly on the concrete ramp next to Bucky.
The suddenness of their escape completely befuddles the creatures in the alley, and they jog down the last length of street. It seems strangely abandoned after the last two miles.
Then he sees it.
The barrier of the quarantine zone is a huge concrete and metal edifice that marches across the road and right through the rubble of the buildings on either side, advancing off into the distance. It looks frighteningly like something out of one of Clint's movies, something Evil, but even worse for the ground being scorched black and littered with car wrecks and charred corpses.
It's creepily silent as they approach, then: "Stop right there!"
The top of the wall bristles with high-powered weaponry. A lieutenant steps up; clearly this is the man in charge here.
Steve decides to go with politeness. "Excuse me, lieutenant--"
"Lt. Ainsley, thank you. My name is Steve Rogers," Steve shouts. Since his thawing, S.H.I.E.L.D. had kept his identity a secret, but he can't do it now. "I'm Captain America."
There's a muffled guffaw from somewhere up on top of the wall and the lieutenant turns and scowls at someone behind him for a moment. "Anyone could say they're Captain America, buddy," Ainsley replies.
This time it's Bucky's turn to laugh. "I'm Captain America," he mutters. "No, I'm Captain America!" It's obviously a reference to something, but Steve doesn't get it. He ignores Bucky.
"You recognise this?" He holds up Captain America's shield, childishly tilting it so it catches the sun and reflects into the eyes of those at the top of the wall. Again Bucky laughs and even though it's really not the time for it, Steve's warmed by the affection he can hear. "Put a call through to S.H.I.E.L.D. and they'll confirm. Speak with Colonel Nick Fury. Or Agent Coulson. They'll confirm my identity."
The lieutenant snorts. "You want me to waste Colonel Fury's time?"
"Steve," Bucky says sharply, in a low voice. The shouting has finally attracted visitors, and when Steve turns, he can see movement at the far end of the street.
"On it." Steve turns back to the wall and the lieutenant. "Tell me, Lt. Ainsley," he says pleasantly. "Would you risk it? Would you rather tell Colonel Fury you let Captain America get torn to pieces on the streets of New York by zombies, than potentially inconvenience him?"
Even from this distance he can see the sudden chagrin in the lieutenant's face. It's not that he doesn't feel for the man, because he does, he's just trying to do his job. But Steve would really like to be on the other side of that wall right now. "If you're going to place that call, Lieutenant, you'll want to do it soon, before our visitors arrive." Steve jerks his thumb over his shoulder.
The five odd minutes it takes for Ainsley to get Nick Fury on the line feel like the longest five minutes of Steve's life. He's not good at waiting as certain death shambles up the street towards them. Bucky's casually picking off creatures from the crowd with his rifle; each one that goes down gives them a little more time as the rest of the zombies turn on the corpse.
Finally the lieutenant comes back with a satellite phone. "I have Special Agent Coulson on the line," he shouts. "I've told him you say you're Captain America. That you've got the shield." Ainsley listens to the phone for a minute. "Have either of you been bitten?"
Steve glances at Bucky and then back up. "No. No way."
"It probably wouldn't make a lick of difference if you had," Bucky murmurs and Steve frowns at him. Now is really not the time.
"Who is your friend?"
"This is Sgt. James Barnes, of the Howling Commandos." Steve just looks at Bucky; he couldn't look away even if he wanted to. "Reported KIA in the Swiss Alps in '43. The reports... the reports were wrong." If his voice catches in his throat as he says those words, he's not ashamed. He sees Bucky swallow and glance away.
"Agent Coulson wants to confirm your identity," Ainsley says. "He wants you to tell him who the agent was who championed you to Colonel Phillips."
That's easy, Steve thinks. "Doctor Erski--" No. Agent. It's a trick question, because Abraham Erskine wasn't his only supporter. "Agent Carter. Agent Peggy Carter." And he thinks of her as she was then, not as she is now, vibrant and young and everything he wanted (and another thing he thought he could never have until it was too late).
"You wanna wrap this up, we're about to have visitors," Bucky says urgently, interrupting Steve's reminiscing. Bucky raises his rifle, picks off another four in quick succession and then reloads.
"Lieutenant, how are things going up there?" Steve calls, raising his own gun.
They're so busy concentrating on the zombies coming down the street that it's a shock when the creatures start to pour out of what Steve--and evidently Bucky, too--had thought was a dead-end alley.
"Shit!" Bucky grabs up his gun and falls back, shoving Steve hard towards the concrete wall.
"To your left," Ainsley shouts. "There's a clean room. The door is on a minute timer, and you have to be in there before it closes, Captain!"
He looks around wildly and then sees what the lieutenant is talking about. There's a sliding steel door standing open, next to a one-way glass window. "This way!" he says as Bucky urges him on again.
"Go, Steve!" Bucky shouts. "Go, they're coming!"
He thinks that Bucky is right on his heels. That was his second mistake. He leaps through the doorway, stumbling and off balance as he turns and the door is already closing when he realises that Bucky isn't behind him. That Bucky is still a good hundred metres away and isn't even trying to make the quarantine zone. He's stopped in the street, watching as the heavy steel door shuts behind Steve.
Steve slams up against the window. "No, Bucky! No!"
He sees Bucky scramble up onto a car, resting on its side by one of the half-demolished buildings. The zombies converge as Bucky flips Steve a lazy salute--so much like the last time Steve saw Bucky here in New York too long ago--and leaps for the scorched, twisted metal of the fire escape.
Steve's first mistake was not realising that Bucky never intended to come with him.
His fingers scrape against the glass. In case something happens, that's what Bucky said. In case something happens. He recognises it now for what it was. A goodbye. Steve had assumed that after last night Bucky would leave the city with him, that blurting out his stupid feelings would make a difference.
He slams his hand against the glass. He should have known better. He knows Bucky after all. If anything he's even more obstinate than Steve.
In case something happens, and Steve never let him finish the sentence. In case ...what? He thinks of the look in Bucky's eyes when Steve vowed never to lose him again. Steve realises that Bucky knew then that he wasn't going to go with Steve. Hell, he probably knew when they left the fortress apartment that morning.
He never intended to come with Steve at all and though it's not the time for it (and maybe never would be) Steve can't help but think of last night, them together, Bucky aroused and wanting but never anything but 100% in control.
In control. He knew Steve loved him, heard it admitted from Steve's own lips, and Steve had never once stopped to wonder if Bucky felt the same and maybe.... maybe all last night was to Bucky was a goodbye, giving Steve the one thing he desperately wanted and never thought he'd ever get--
He's ripped from his thoughts as zombies swarm up onto the car after Bucky and he gasps as there's a metallic screech as the damaged fire escape teeters under Bucky's weight. "No, no, no, no, no." He hits the glass again, hard. "You have to help him," Steve shouts up at the lieutenant, who is watching the events unfolding in the street with interest from his position atop the wall. A couple of the other soldiers take pot shots at the zombies reaching up towards Bucky. Enough to give him a fighting chance, but not enough to escape.
Steve's infuriated by the casual disregard the military is showing one of their own sons and swears viciously. Bucky. He should have known. Steve slaps his hand against the glass as a screech of metal echoes down the street.
The fire escape peels slowly away from the wall. Steve can't breathe as he watches Bucky teeter on the ladder, watches him wrap his arm tightly around a rung and try to shoot at the zombies who've grabbed the metal railing that's now in reach. "You have to let me out now, I have to help him," he shouts. "That's an order, Lieutenant!"
"Sorry, Captain, but my orders come from far higher up than you. No one goes back out after they come in." Ainsley actually sounds genuinely apologetic, but the tone means nothing to Steve right now. "We can try and keep them off him, but you can't go out there. The door won't open until the quarantine tox screen is complete."
But Steve's never been good at taking no for an answer. All his attempts to enlist for the war were proof of that.
So he drops the crossbow, backs up and gives himself some distance, and then hurls himself at the window. It hurts like hell and knocks the breath right out of him, but the glass doesn't break. He tries again. And again. The window is tempered glass and should be too difficult for him to smash with his body alone, but by some stroke of luck there was a flaw in its construction, a weakening of the tensile strength, and finally it shatters. Steve falls through the rain of glass pieces, just as the creatures pull Bucky from the fire escape.
"Shit!" He hears from somewhere behind, and: "That's Captain America! Go after him!" There's a claxon, sudden flashing lights, the grinding screech of metal on concrete.
Steve ignores it all. Stupidly, he'd left the crossbow in the containment room and god only knows where his pistol's gone, but there's plenty of debris lying around. He improvises and snatches up a piece of heavy metal piping, no doubt the forgotten weapon of some unfortunate who wasn't Captain America with S.H.I.E.L.D. to vouch for him, and caves in the head of the first of the creatures attracted by his breakout.
He's not sure how many he takes down, how many he leaves struggling and wounded on the ground behind him as he smashes his way through the cluster, pipe in one hand, shield in the other, to where Bucky lies motionless on the ground. He doesn't notice the soldiers coming up behind, protecting his back the way Bucky had, and the Howling Commandos had, and these days the way the Avengers did. It's too single-minded, this desperate urge to get to Bucky, to know he's okay.
The soldiers quickly establish a cordon, coldly putting down every creature still moving.
Steve drops to his knees beside Bucky and reaches out. When he rolls Bucky over he sees the blood--real blood, from a real, living person--smeared bright red across bared skin and torn fabric, sees the rents in Bucky's flesh, sees the teeth marks. Bucky's head rests against his thigh, his eyes closed. He looks impossibly pale.
"Oh no," Steve breathes. "No, no, no..." He reaches for Bucky's shirt, intending to tear the material into a compress, but he doesn't even get a chance before he's dogpiled by Ainsley's soldiers. His cheek cracks hard against concrete and stars explode behind his eyes. Then he's hauled dizzily to his feet, held firm in strong hands.
"Here, help me with this one." Ainsley is there, gesturing for two soldiers to pick Bucky up. Ainsley unholsters his side-arm.
That's all it takes for Steve to white out with fear and fury. It rolls through him, ice cold then sickly hot as he throws himself forward, momentarily breaking free of the men holding him. More grab at him until he can't move again. He can't breathe, can't think. The image of the gun in the lieutenant's hand and the sun shining on Bucky's hair is burned into his retinas.
"No!" he rages, trying to lunge forward again. "Let him go!" If he can get free, his shield is right there on the ground; and if he can get to Bucky, there'll be no amount of bullets the lieutenant can shoot that'll penetrate it--
"Keep him back!" Ainsley barks at the men holding him. Then to Steve: "He's been bitten, Captain! You know we have to!"
Steve's not going to let anyone shoot Bucky, bitten or not. He breaks free for a moment before again he's pulled up by sheer weight of numbers. "Sage, put Rogers down. Fury said three shots'll do it," Ainsley bellows over the commotion. Steve feels the cold press of something against the back of his neck and the painful jab of a needle into his flesh. Once and he staggers, twice and his vision blurs, three times and he's about to buckle.
"No, oh no, no no..." His sight becomes tunnel vision and all he can see is Bucky being held between two soldiers, limp and head down. "Bucky, please, come on..." Like he hears Steve's voice--maybe he does, come on, come on--Bucky's head lolls back and Steve can see the glint of his eyes under heavy lids. He sees Bucky's mouth move, forming a single word, before the lieutenant raises his gun.
He lunges forward one last time. "No--"
There's another stab of pain and his vision goes black.