They come ashore on the Canadian East coast, leaving the remnants of the Hydra ship to sink to the bottom. The icy water and rocky beaches are stark, forbidding territory to most, but they're familiar ground to Bucky. This is where he washed ashore all those years ago, abandoning his Russian captors to the North Atlantic's fury.
This is the place that hid the Winter Soldier from enemy and ally alike. Bucky knows this place and, some part of him likes to think, it knows him. He curls his fingers into the loose shale and licks at the salt water clinging to his lips. "Honey, I'm home," he singsongs, which should be a cause for alarm. Not even Steph could stand his singing.
"If I didn't know you better I'd be worried right now." Steph drops to her knees beside him, pink-cheeked and smiling despite the icicles in her hair. "Still with me?"
He rolls onto his back and grins at her. "Debating my chances of mouth to mouth."
She shakes her head. "See? This would be why I'm not worried." Holding out her hand, she waits for him to take it before rocking back on her heels and getting to her feet. "You never change."
Pulling him with her takes no apparent effort and, not for the first time, he can't believe this is Steph. He'll never admit it, but he almost misses the way her body was before, when he could tuck her against his side and hide her from everything.
Almost because he remembers the time she'd stayed up with him when he was sick, only to spend three weeks in bed herself fighting off the same damn bug. And the time she'd come home stiff-lipped, hiding tears because the doctor had said she'd never be healthy enough to carry a child. Steph who'd looked after every kid on the block better than their mothers ever could.
Bucky almost misses those days. Looking at her now, he wouldn't trade that smile on her face for anything. Not even those cold nights when she'd burrowed into his arms, muttering about his bony knees while he'd pressed his face into her hair and let the scent of her lull him to sleep.
Steph looks at him and he realizes he's been quiet for too long when she says, "Okay, maybe I'm a little worried" and he can see that she is.
"I'm fine," he says, rolling his shoulders. They're still working out what the Russians did to him, more than Erskine's formula that's for sure, but he can already feel himself shaking off the cold. He flexes the fingers in his arm and they respond fast enough. Should probably have Stark go over it again later to be sure. "We should probably get inside though."
She nods, looking up at the high cliffs that surround them. "Well, that's going to be interesting."
"Nah," he nods toward a small path that leads away from the beach, "Been here before, remember?"
Steph's lips quirk. "You mentioned it. Briefly." There's a little too much emphasis on briefly to be accidental and Steph's never been a smooth talker, not like either version of the Starks, so he hears every single unspoken question she packed into those syllables and he sighs.
He knows she's got questions. She's read the debriefs, she knows what the Russians did and what they had him do, but there are gaps. His memory is part of it, the holes that the conditioning left in his head, but it's not just that.
He can't tell her of those days after the wall fell, when he'd finally, finally broken through the Winter Soldier and found himself in a world without her.
He stumbled onto these shores with heart and mind broken in equal measure.
Steph's hand brushes his, slides over the synthetic skin before moving up his arm. For all the arm is mechanical, he feels it. Not like he would in the other arm, but he feels it and some part of him latches onto that and holds fierce. He stares down at her fingers for a long moment, afraid of what she might say and that she might stop.
"Some day?" she asks quietly, letting her hand stay right where it is. "Maybe?"
He looks at her, remembering the sharp horror on her face when he'd fallen from the train (nothing the Russians had done could ever erase that. Even when he hadn't remembered who she was, Bucky'd known somewhere in the world, someone missed him and maybe that's what broke the Soldier apart in the end) and smiles. "Maybe."
He's lying. He won't. He can't. She's suffered enough because of him. There's not a chance in hell of him willingly making it worse.
"Come on," he says, starting over the rocks. "If this is the right place, there should be a cabin over the hill. Hell, if it isn't there's probably one anyway. It's kind of a thing around here. You'd love these people, Steph. Totally your type; give you the shirt off their back in the middle of a blizzard if they thought you needed it."
He gets halfway up the beach before Steph's hand catches his and he's spinning around. He blinks, looks at her and she's frowning. Bucky recognizes that look. Still remembers the last time he'd seen it, the night before he'd shipped out, when he'd found her arguing with a drunk in an alley. "Steph?"
She's still frowning when she kisses him. That's not exactly reassuring, but the feeling of her mouth hot on his sure as hell is and so is the way she makes this noise before pressing. It pushes him off balance and Bucky slips, stumbling on the rocks until they end up in an awkward sprawl. A rock is digging into his back, worse when Steph's weight settles on him, but he doesn't care.
Steph's still kissing him and holding on like it's the train all over and she is never, ever letting him go.
Bucky, for the record, is totally okay with that. He's holding just as tight, one hand tangled in her wet hair, the other pressed against her back and keeping her close. He has no idea how they went from Steph worrying to kissing on a freezing cold beach, but he is absolutely going to take it.
For her part, Steph doesn't let up until his head is spinning. "No maybes about it, Bucky," she says, her voice low and serious. "I mean it."
So does he, but Bucky's smart enough not to say it.
He cups her jaw, sliding his thumb slowly over her lower lip, and he's shaking a little when he does it.
He pulls her into another kiss. She shivers. Maybe it's the cold, maybe it's not—maybe there are no maybes about it. Doesn't matter. He knows she could understand, but he can't tell her. Not when she's alive and in his arms like never let on he wanted (and spent years hating himself for) and they're a world away from all of it. He won't put that on her. He can't.
"Been wanting to do that forever," he says, needing to confess some kind of truth. Anything but the ache he'd lived those years with. He's supposed to be the one protecting her, even if she's trying to make a habit of turning the tables. "Since way before the war."
She rolls her eyes, the same old Steph underneath the fancy 'new' skin. "And your way of showing it was kissing every other woman in New York instead?"
"Performance anxiety," he shrugs. "Can't blame a guy for being chicken, can you?"
Steph looks at him like he's finally lost it and maybe he has, but he's going to love every second of it. Especially if this is what it gets him.
"Besides," he admits in a quiet voice, "I wasn't sure you'd let me. Probably figure it was some kind of pity thing and it isn't. It wasn't."
She smiles. "I know."
He imagines confessing, 'Every day, I woke up and knew you weren't and I hated myself. You were dead and I wasn't there to die with you and I hated myself for that too', but he'll never say it.
Steph looks at him, eyes sad, and he knows he doesn't have to.