Bucky doesn't stay at the Avengers mansion, even though Steve's asked him, always asks him ("C'mon, Buck, there's plenty of room--" "I'm not an Avenger, Steve, I don't belong here..." and the aching look in Steve's eyes knows that when Bucky says 'here' he means 'anywhere'), even though he's there every day because Steve asks him to come by and Bucky, goddamn it, he can't ever say no to Steve.
So he's at the mansion again, arrives sometime around breakfast and lingers awkwardly in the kitchen doorway waiting for the appropriate time to interrupt, to ask where Steve is. He arrives on the tail end of a conversation between Tony and Pepper, close and quiet and serious. He tries not to eavesdrop--he's trying to learn to be a better person, he really is--but it's hard not to.
Especially not when Steve is mentioned.
"...and I'll take it down to him."
"How is Steve doing after last night?" Bucky doesn't miss the deep thread of concern in Pepper's tone and he jerks his head up.
"Yeah..." Tony flicks a glance to where Bucky loiters, then his eyes slide away. Bucky immediately tenses. "The usual," he says, offhandedly. "You know how it goes. It's Steve. He'll be fine."
But Bucky can tell it's not just nothing as Tony's trying to imply; if it isn't the shifty tone, it's the look on Pepper's face. The look that says Steve won't be fine, that he's not fine, that whatever happened isn't the casual thing that Tony's trying to pass off.
And Bucky takes that step forward, into the kitchen to interrupt the conversation and Pepper smiles at him, says his name with pleasure like she's happy to see him (and that's something else he's trying to get used to; people wanting him around, pleased to see him, him), but he can't focus on that, that's something else for another day. His voice echoes oddly in his ears when he says, "What happened to Steve?" and Tony again can't quite meet his gaze.
"James," Pepper says gently and reaches out and touches Bucky's arm, "it was a nightmare--"
"It was a dream," Tony interrupts sharply. "Just a dream. It was nothing, he's fine."
"Tony--" Pepper starts again.
This time it's Bucky's turn to interrupt, because he doesn't appreciate the protective tone in Tony's voice, doesn't appreciate that Tony thinks he has to protect Steve from Bucky of all people. "What. Happened. To. Steve?" he repeats; slow, measured, no uncertain terms. Meets Tony's gaze and holds it.
Tony's mouth thins to an unhappy line. "Make sure no one interrupts," he says to Pepper, reaching out and squeezing her hand as he passes, herding Bucky from the kitchen to a small study. "Sit," he orders.
Tony settles into the seat opposite. "Steve has nightmares. Bad ones," he says bluntly and Bucky appreciates that he's getting straight to the point, at least. "They're always the same." It's now that he hesitates.
"Yeah?" Bucky says impatiently.
Tony sighs heavily. "They're always about you."
"Me?" Well shit. Bucky sits back in his chair. "There's about a billion things wrong with me that Steve could have a nightmare about if he wanted to, I'm more than happy to suggest a few." Tony scowls and Bucky closes his eyes a moment because shooting off at the mouth isn't going to help anyone. Jesus, Steve. "All right, I'm sorry," the apology doesn't come easy, "Go on."
When Tony looks down at his hands like he's searching for the right words, Bucky realises that this is big... okay, he knew it was big, but this is something else, something more. "I've only--" Tony stops, clears his throat. "I've only known Steve since we thawed him out of the ice, but I think I know him pretty well by now. He's... well shit, Bucky, I don't need to tell you how important he is to everyone."
Of course he is. Bucky knows Steve's value, always has, even when no one else did.
"One thing I know about Steve is how much you mean to him. What you've always meant, even before you came back. And that's the problem."
"Problem?" Bucky says sharply.
Tony looks at him steadily, not letting Bucky's aggressive tone rile him. "Yeah. Problem. Christ, you have no idea, do you? He has nightmares about you falling off that train, Bucky, over and over. He can't catch you now anymore than he could then. You're always just out of reach. I don't--" he shakes his head, "I haven't seen someone have nightmares that bad in a long time. He wakes up, trashes the room like he's the Hulk or--okay, he's not that bad, but it's bad enough." Tony rakes his hand through his hair and Bucky stares at him, feeling like there's a rubber band around his lungs, squeezing tighter.
Pepper has been listening in the doorway and she drifts closer, around the desk and reaching out to curve her hand over Tony's shoulder. He reaches up, covers it with his own. "Steve's always blamed himself because he couldn't save you, James," she says softly. "That he couldn't find you, couldn't bring you home--"
-- you were left behind no one came for you and you were left to die they didn't come to find your body so they could take you home didn't want you because no one cared --
"--before he died. When he--when S.H.I.E.L.D. thawed him out he never stopped talking about you. Even now you're back you're still first in his thoughts."
"He thought if he'd survived," Tony says as Pepper falls silent, "you might've too, but when we took a team out to look for you, for any sign, anything left--"
"I was long gone," Bucky murmurs. Gone and in the hands of the Russians; by that stage already the Winter Soldier, already killing to further the Soviet agenda and worse.
Tony nods. "Then Fury came to him with the information about your--about the Winter Soldier's suspected identity... I've never seen him so torn up. You'd survived. Somehow, you'd survived the fall and he... he actually believed he was the one who'd left you to the Russians. That it was his fault."
Bucky feels a wash of sick heat rush through him. It's all starting to make sense. Terrible, horrible sense, as the puzzle pieces finally fit together; Steve's stark fear as Bucky clung with a slipping grip to the rail on the train, that last look on Steve's face--
-- no no no you know that's wrong you know he left you he left you he left you and you deserved it deserved all you got winter soldier killer you deserved it --
--just as the rail broke and Bucky fell away. The grief, the slip, like for a moment he could fall with Bucky. "No. No, he didn't leave me," Bucky whispers. "He died. He couldn't save me then, or after..." He stops and scrubs at his face. Christ, it hurts. It's unbearable how much it hurts. "He couldn't."
"Tell him that. We've tried. He doesn't believe any of us."
"I will. I have to. Where is he?" Bucky asks because he has to see Steve now, has to let him know it's not his fault, that there's no guilt here and no reason for Steve to ever blame himself--
-- no because it's all your fault bucky all your fault you hurt steve you did this to him bring him down from within --
--and he jerks to his feet, trying to shut the voices out. He thought he'd learned by now not to listen. "Where is he?" he repeats.
Tony stares up at him for a long moment.
Bucky slams his hand down on the desk between them. "Tell me where he is!" he shouts.
"He's--" And Tony still hesitates. Because Tony doesn't trust him. Doesn't trust him not to hurt Steve (again and again and again).
Bucky's hands clench into fists. He will take Tony Stark apart if he has to, and he can, just as Pepper says, "He's in the workshop." Her eyes are soft as she looks at him, soft and gentle, like she sees more. She doesn't share Tony's issues. She trusts Bucky to be right with Steve.
As Tony should.
"Thank you," Bucky manages, his voice choked up in his throat, and then he bolts for the workshop. He's been there once, maybe twice and always with Steve leading him, but somehow he makes it there, downstairs to the garage turned workshop and he...
He stops. He stops at the door like there's a hook in his collar, pulling him up short from taking that last step through the doorway. He can see Steve, sitting by his bike, hands dirty with grease. And Bucky can tell immediately that there's something wrong, that awkward cast to his broad shoulders and the way he stops every now and then just to close his eyes and take a deep breath before he continues--
-- he left you bucky left you behind to die in the snow and the cold he never came for you left you for us and this you did this to him you hurt him you broke him this is your fault bucky your FAULT --
"No," he growls.
Steve's head whips around, his eyes widening (pain, there and then gone, but Bucky sees it) and then he smooths his expression. "Hey," he says, smiling his sunshine smile and it breaks Bucky's heart to see such a familiar expression when god, he knows it's all a lie. "You're early."
"Steve." And Bucky's voice is rough to his own ears.
At his tone Steve frowns and unfolds from where he sits, standing and snagging up a rag to wipe his hands even as he comes to Bucky, because he's incapable of not responding to Bucky's hurt. He reaches out but Bucky steps back. "It's not your fault," Bucky says. "None of it is."
"Buck, I don't--"
"Tony told me. About your dreams. Nightmares."
Steve lets his hand fall. "It's nothing--"
"Don't," Bucky grates. "Don't make it into nothing so I won't ask about it." He scrubs his hand over his face, through his hair, and pushes past Steve into the workshop. He paces restlessly, then stops, turning on his heel. "Why didn't you ever tell me?"
"I didn't... I didn't think it was important."
"You didn't think it was important?" Bucky's never had to work so hard to reign in his temper before. "You never left me behind, Steve. It was--they were the ones who made me believe I was left behind. That no-one cared enough to look for me--"
"Bucky, that's not true--"
"Shut the fuck up and let me talk!" He has to stop, pressing his fingers to the bridge of his nose as he takes a few deep breaths. Steve is twisting the rag through his fingers, unable to hide the anguish in his eyes.
Finally Bucky continues, "They convinced me I deserved what I got. That I wasn't worth returning for and becoming what they wanted of me was the best way to get back at--at the ones who left me behind. These... they put these thoughts in my own head. And I believed them. They made me blame you--didn't say it was you, but I blamed you all the same, then... god, I came back, Steve and. You never said anything. You never came for me and--" Bucky has to stop again to breathe through the tightness in his throat, "I didn't know. That you died when you did. And you couldn't come for me, even when you wanted to--" His throat closes up again and he looks away, closes his eyes, because he can't, he just can't. "So don't you dare say you didn't think it was important." He almost can't get the words out.
He flinches when he feels Steve's hands on his shoulders and glances up. Steve's right there, a gentle, steady look in his eyes, and Bucky's reminded for about the millionth time in his life that Steve is the best man he knows. There's something strangely comforting in the smell of grease on Steve's skin, under his fingernails, and in the weight of Steve's hands.
"I tried," Steve says softly.
"I looked for you."
"And... and then I tortured you by giving you your memories back."
"I did, though, Bucky. I was selfish because I wanted you back. You. Your memories of me. Us. And everything we'd been through together. But I made you remember who you were without even thinking about what it would mean to you to remember like that. I just... can you ever forgive me for that?"
Bucky shakes his head. "No, no, don't even go there. Don't take that on too. You're not responsible for that... you did what you had to do to give me my life back. Who knows where I'd be, or what I'd be, if you didn't." Bucky reaches up, curves his hands over Steve's. He swallows. "I was gonna kill you. And I would've done it because I didn't remember you and those were my orders."
He sighs, slides his hands along Steve's arms 'til his fingers curve around Steve's biceps. "Not gonna lie, it hurt to get my memories back--" God, it was something so much worse than hurt, it nearly destroyed him; if there hadn't been so much revenge burning inside him, he mightn't be here now. He can't say that to Steve though, won't say it. "But it's okay now. I'm... I'm okay. I am okay."
He tugs on Steve's arms, pulls him in. Wraps his arms around Steve's broad shoulders (and can still remember when Steve was so small he could tuck him under his arm) and holds him close. "None of it's your fault, Steve," he says softly. "You're not to blame. And--and I've got nothing to forgive you for, I just need you to forgive yourself." Bucky knows that these words aren't going to make Steve better, not now, not even for a long time. But he'll tell Steve as many times as he has to, because he has to; because Bucky knows how the puzzle pieces fit together now, knows what the missing pieces are.
And while it's hard to forget the lies that were set into his very bones, if there's anything Bucky knows for sure it's how much he knows Steve Rogers.
"Bucky, I..." Steve's voice breaks on his name as his arms go around Bucky, pulling him in tight, crushing him close and Steve's clinging to him so tightly it hurts, but it's good. It's a good hurt. It's how Bucky wants it, needs it; Steve's breath warm on his ear and Bucky hears the hitch in his breathing, the raw grief in his tone. "I would have done anything to stop what happened to you."
"I know, Stevie, I know," Bucky says because he believes him. He trusts him. He loves him. And Bucky will take all of that over any of the lies his brain, his stupid, broken brain, will use to try and poison his thoughts against Steve.
Because, for Bucky, that's enough.