The message comes from Maria Hill. She doesn't send a digital note or make a phone call; instead, she appears at the door of Steve's Stark Tower apartment, face serious.
"Come with me, Captain Rogers," she says.
"Why? What's going on?"
She deliberately moves her eyes to look suspiciously around the hallway until Steve sighs, grabs his jacket, and says, "I guess you can tell me on the way."
It isn't until they've ridden down the elevator and climbed into a large black vehicle that anyone speaks, and it's Steve who initiates. "You know Stark will find out what's going on anyway. He's not the type to sit around while a SHIELD agent escorts me out of the building."
"This is a personal matter, Captain," Hill says.
"I don't follow."
She hands him a file folder. "Personal for you."
Steve frowns, but when he opens it, his breath catches.
"How long are we driving?" he asks.
"ETA fifteen minutes."
It's the longest fifteen minutes of Steve's life, thumbing through Bucky's file. There are portions missing - it doesn't escape Steve's notice that he's looking at paper instead of a computer, after all - but just the allusions to a recovery team and medical interventions are enough to tie his insides into knots.
"You understand," Hill says after the car stops and they're making their way to the transport waiting atop a skyscraper. "Director Fury wanted you brought in immediately."
"There's still work to be done."
"I can be patient, Agent Hill," Steve says more calmly than he's feeling. When Bucky's life is in the balance, he'll do whatever it takes to save it. Even if it means doing nothing.
They fly in silence to the Helicarrier, and Hill wastes no time in leading him to a waiting area. She directs him to sit in a chair and disappears into a room down the hall.
It's hard, but it's not bad, waiting around. It's taken Steve time...no, it's still taking Steve time to integrate into the future. Not because it's different; he's always been stubborn enough to pull through any new situation. It's just hard to stomach that the bullies look almost exactly the same as they always did. Getting a piece of his past to share in that experience is a lot for a guy to wrap his head around.
Hill comes out twice alone: once to hear Steve tell check the details around Bucky's death - as if it wasn't all in the reports Steve gave before and after he was frozen - and once to update. The second time comes while Steve's at the end of a nap lasting several hours, but once Hill steps in front of him, it was like he was never asleep.
"He's awake," Hill says. "It'll probably be another hour while the doctors finish the preliminaries."
Steve nods. The lump in his throat won't let him say anything aloud.
Hill ends up being right; judging by the very expensive wristwatch Tony insisted on buying Steve, it's fifty-seven minutes before a man in a thin hospital gown steps out into the hallway. Steve stands up immediately, and Bucky grins, walking over with Hill at his back like he never missed a day of his life.
Steve doesn't waste any more time. He meets Bucky halfway, cups his face in his hands, and leans in for a kiss.
Bucky flushes right away and leans back. Steve drops his hands and is about to step back when he notices Bucky looking at Hill, who politely stepped away and turned her back.
"It's okay," Steve says. "We can do this now."
Bucky's smile returns, and he sets a hand at the back of Steve's neck. "I like the future already."
Their lips meet, Bucky's soft and slightly salty from sweat. Steve sighs quietly into his mouth and wraps his arms around to hold him close.
He suspects Hill's lurking to take Bucky somewhere different: maybe to quarters, or to debriefing, or to a place Steve doesn't know. But for the few minutes that Steve reminds himself of the taste of Bucky's mouth, he remembers the feeling he'd thought he'd lost forever: stopped time.
"I won't disappear if you let me go," Bucky says into Steve's skin as he plants small kisses on his jaw. Steve chuckles and grabs on tighter.