They didn't know why the secondary infection Bucky had caught had proved so much more resistant to the antibiotics than the mild one that he had sought treatment for, but the doctors said there was nothing they could do. Nothing they could do but pray.
It had been a minor wound. He had suffered a bloody but ultimately superficial gash on his arm. Steve had insisted Bucky get it looked at when it was still red and puffy after a few days, and he went on basic course of penicillin. Steve thought that was the end of it, but then it managed to get into Bucky's lungs somehow. He had managed to fool Steve for about 5 days, but then he collapsed during a standard drill, flushed and wracked with fever.
“Bucky?” Steve had called, voice sounding distant and blurry. “Bucky! Shit, he's burning up! Dugan, go get help!” There was water pressed to Bucky's lips, but he could barely take a sip before being doubled over by coughing. The others were gathered around them in a huddle of concern, voices low and anxious. When they had taken him away and examined him, the diagnosis was pneumonia, and they had started him on another course of drugs. But they weren't working. Every time Steve visited, Bucky seemed to be getting worse. First it was the incessant coughing, the way every breath seemed to fold him in half. That reminded Steve of when he had been sick before all of the changes wrought by the serum. Back in Brooklyn, during the cold winters, Steve often got sick, and it was Bucky who sat beside him, told him stories and held his hand through the worst of the pain. But here, they wouldn't let Steve touch him, even though he was not at any risk thanks to the serum. They made Steve stand at the door, watching his friend toss in fever dreams, totally helpless to comfort him.
“Steve! Don't let them--! Please, no!” Steve knew Bucky was dreaming about HYRDA, about Zola and the horrible things they had done to him. Bucky had been tight lipped about it, even when the two of them were alone. Steve knew that the experiments had been horrific, and could have long term consequences, but Bucky had been doing alright as far as Steve could tell. He hadn't even dreamed. But he was dreaming now, and all he wanted to do was go to Bucky and hold him. But the nurses, who came and went in a steady flow, would scold him if he so much as took a step towards his friend and lover.
They had loved each other long before the serum and the war. They had gone into it, full knowing that both of them would have to marry, have a family, a steady job a normal life... But no one had thought it would come to this. They would live next door, raise their kids together. Steve wasn't supposed to watch him die of a mild infection.
“Steve!” Disobeying every order, Steve went to Bucky's side. His friend was deathly thin, face clammy and gray. He took the still damp cloth sitting on the low table beside the bed, and wiped it gently across Bucky's burning face. He stilled at the cool touch, and Steve found comfort in the gesture too.
He idly began to sing a lullaby his mother had always sung to him when he was a child, sick with this or that. Bucky, who had still been tossing under his hands, stilled, rolling into his touch.
When you walk through a storm
Keep your chin up high
And don't be afraid of the dark.
At he end of the storm
Is a golden sky
And the sweet silver song of a lark.
Walk on through the wind,
Walk on through the rain,
Tho' your dreams be tossed and blown.
Walk on, walk on
With hope in your heart
And you'll never walk alone,
You'll never walk alone.
~ ~ ~
Some miracle had decided to rain down on Steve's head that night. As he lay nursing Bucky, something changed. He became cool to the touch and damp with sweat. He finally sunk into a deep sleep, and the fever did not return. By the next morning, Bucky was lucid, if exhausted, and the doctors said he would make a full recovery, all the while shaking their heads and calling it a blessing. Steve had never left Bucky's side that night, and fell into his cot the moment he was told Bucky would be ok.
There had been some talk of course. No one had seen such devotion before, and tongues wagged. But the Commandos had drawn around their Captain and their healing second in command, and soon no one was willing to pull any shit, lest the most respected unit on the line take offense.
Steve even felt save enough to sneak the occasional kiss when the two of them were alone, and he felt like there could be a future outside all this war and bloodshed and death. But then Bucky fell. That final brush of fingers haunted Steve for days, and he would often find himself rubbing his hands, as if he could remove the last traces of Bucky from his nerves. It was then that Peggy became so much more than an idle dream. Steve needed her, now that Buck was gone. He needed her at his side at Bucky's military funeral, as he sang to an empty coffin and tried not to cry. He needed her so much.
~ ~ ~
He sang the same song to Peggy as he nosed the plane down into the arctic. He had manged barely more than a hoarse whisper, fighting back the tears that almost fell from his eyes. He couldn't be sacred, not in front of Peggy, who had always been so strong. And when she promised him that dance, he had no words, only tears. And so instead of crying, he sang.