Wasn’t surprised when King T’Challa called him for a private meeting. Was surprised that he wasn’t being interrogated, but given a temporary solution that would benefit all parties. While the king’s top scientists looked for a way to break through HYDRA’s brainwashing, he would be put in a cryogenic state to prevent anyone from using him as the Winter Soldier again.
“I expect you at the lab at 10 a.m. tomorrow morning,” T’Challa said coolly, his thumb rubbing against his silver ring, “unless you need more time to say your goodbyes to Captain Rogers.”
Bucky shook his head. “More than enough time. Thank you.”
He left the conference room, his mind a fish bowl of muddy, ragged memories. He needed his backpack. Wanted to run his hand through his notebooks one more time. Would need Steve’s help filling in some more gaps. Never forget. Never, ever forget.
Needed Steve. Found Steve finishing his dinner in his room. Steve smiled at him, all the way up to his eyes, as he was invited in. No, not hungry, not thirsty. Had something to tell Steve, something important. Steve was all ears. Told him everything.
“...go in at 10 a.m. tomorrow.”
Steve’s smile was long gone, his blue eyes frosted over.
Steve looked away from him, staring down at his folded hands hanging over his knees.
“Okay,” Steve answered. Crisp.
“Nothing to be sorry for, Buck.”
Restrained, stiff. Silence. Steve was taking this harder than Bucky anticipated. His mind scrambled on what to do next.
“Maybe they’ll pack me with a magazine or a radio so I don’t get bored,” Bucky said and smacked him on the shoulder with his bandaged hand.
He expected a chuckle, but Steve broke. Crying. Face all screwed up. Tears clinging to his red cheeks. Bucky stared at him, wanting to say something to make him stop crying, but that wasn’t fair to Steve. He threw his arm around Steve, held on tight.
“I’m fine I—shit,” Steve said and wiped his nose with the back of his hand.
“I’m sorry,” Bucky mumbled.
“Stop saying you’re sorry. I know you’re sorry.”
Bucky frowned hard as he fought his own oncoming tears.
“Damn it, now you’ve got me going.”
Steve put an arm around Bucky, shut his eyes tight, and took a deep breath. Trying to keep their crying private. Thought that one day they would outgrow tears. Bucky was glad that neither of them had.
He opened his eyes and asked, “What happens when you wake up and I’m laid up like Peggy was?”
“Did that make you love her any less?”
“No, of course not. I was grateful to spend a little more time with her, but it hurts. It still hurts. I don’t want you to go through what I went through. You’ve been through enough.”
“So have you.”
Their tears slowed. Bucky squeezed Steve’s shoulder.
“I’m with you,” Bucky started.
“’Til the end of the line,” Steve finished, and pulled away from Bucky.
Tears dried gummy on Bucky’s face. He knew some were Steve’s. This all felt familiar, and he wanted to ask Steve if they cried together before. He suddenly felt too embarrassed to ask.
Steve coughed, then asked, “Got anything planned for tonight?”
Bucky shrugged. “Just going through my notebooks.”
“Need any help?”
Bucky nodded. They went to his bedroom, dug out his collection of worn notebooks. While Steve was checking one notebook for any possible details to add, Bucky flipped through the pages of his most current notebook. Wrote as fast as he could everything he and Steve did just now. Just as he penned his last word, he felt tears sting his eyes again. He loved Steve. He didn’t know if Steve loved him as fiercely as he felt right at this moment, but he knew that Steve loved him too.
He pressed his pen hard against the last page of his notebook:
No matter what happens, I will always love Steve Rogers.
Bucky felt as if he was being watched. He turned and saw Steve reading what he just wrote.
“Can I see that for a minute?” Steve asked.
Bucky scowled, but handed the notebook over. After reading it, Steve wrote something on the last page and handed it back.
Right next to Bucky’s last line, Steve’s stick-straight handwriting read:
And Steve Rogers will always love Bucky Barnes.