Steve caught up with him for the last time at the Grand Canyon.
Bucky was perched on top of a railing, looking down over the sheer drop lit by a wash of brilliant stars and a half moon high enough in the sky to tell him that he had three more hours until dawn. He'd told himself he would make up his mind before then, but when he heard Steve's footsteps behind him, he knew what he'd been waiting for. Bucky closed his eyes and didn't move a muscle until Steve had climbed up onto the railing to sit beside him.
"Do you remember when we talked about this place?" Steve asked.
Bucky shrugged. "I knew I wanted to see it."
Steve nodded in his peripheral vision. "You enjoying the view?"
Bucky looked down--down and down and down--into the roiling river at the bottom of the chasm. The moonlight washed the color from the rocks, but he still couldn't mistake this for a snowy crevasse; the desert night was only pleasantly cool, a world away from the icy, enveloping cold of the Alps. "Could be worse."
Steve exhaled something in the neighborhood of a laugh and said nothing else for a while. Bucky kept looking down.
"I meant what I said," Steve told him finally. "You can stop running. You had a right to do what you did, to take out as much of Hydra as you could. But that's over now. You can start looking forward instead of back."
Bucky looked over at Steve, his familiar profile silhouetted against the stars.
If Bucky was remembering right, he could lean over right now and kiss Steve. If he was remembering right, if Steve wanted to pick up where they'd left off all those years ago, if Bucky was actually the same person. He thought of them overbalancing in a kiss, falling all the way to the river below locked in each other's arms. He didn't think either of them would let go until they smashed at the bottom.
Bucky looked down again. They'd probably both survive it. They'd be mangled to hell, bodies crushed right into each other, teeth all broken into each other's mouths, bones splintered through each other's skins. They'd probably still be alive, even then. They could suffer a long time together before they managed to die.
Bucky scooted his hand away from Steve's where they gripped the railing side by side.
"Where would I go if I did?" Bucky asked.
"The Army," Steve said promptly, which was when he knew that he'd been waiting for Steve to say, With me.
Bucky looked over at him again. "The Army?"
Steve nodded, meeting his gaze straight on. "Sergeant Barnes, seventy-year prisoner of war, needs to be reintegrated after his unprecedented traumatic experiences. The Army protects its own, Buck, and if there's anyone who can come anywhere near to helping you come back from what you've been through, that's where they are. A captured soldier's obligation is to escape and sabotage the enemy if he can, right? Well, you did that about as hard as any soldier ever could. Now it's time to come home, let the medics have a look at you. Recuperate."
Bucky glanced down at the river again. "Army's clean?"
"Hydra never really bothered infiltrating the military," Steve agreed. "They planned to take over at the top and be able to give the orders from a position of seemingly legitimate authority, with their loyal STRIKE teams for muscle if they ever needed to point guns. The Army's safer for you than any civilian agency, and a hell of a lot safer than being out on your own with no support and the possibility of being prosecuted for the things Hydra forced you to do."
"You've got it all figured out," Bucky observed.
"You want to give me any alternative that's not you stepping off this railing, I'll listen to it," Steve said simply. "I'm not here to make your choices for you, but I'm not letting you fall again. We've done enough of that."
Bucky had actually planned on using the gun holstered at the small of his back--he figured it would destroy enough brain tissue that he couldn't possibly come back as anything conscious or useful--but he also knew that that had been off the table once he let Steve find him. He'd had plenty of chances to lie down and die. He'd never taken any of them. He'd probably always been waiting for this--for Steve to show him the way out.
"All right," Bucky said. "Sergeant Barnes, reporting for duty."
Steve's hand rose up to catch his shoulder and squeeze, and then Steve hauled him backward off the railing. Bucky managed to twist and land on his feet, gun in hand, but he didn't even bother to raise it, just reversed his grip and offered it to Steve at the same time his feet hit the ground.
Steve took it with a nod and slung his arm around Bucky's shoulders, turning him toward the road.
By mid-morning Steve was walking him into an Army hospital in Texas. A half-dozen men waited for them near the discreet side entrance Steve had used: three in white coats, two in fatigues with MP insignia, wearing sidearms but no other visible weapons, and one in dress uniform who introduced himself as Major Exley and declared himself in charge of Bucky's--Sergeant Barnes'--reintegration.
Bucky nodded as Exley introduced the doctors--he didn't bother to introduce the MPs--and then Exley said, "We'll take things from here, Captain Rogers," and that was it. It was time for Steve to go.
Bucky turned to him one last time--thought of kissing him again, and wondered if they'd hang him for sodomy or just try to cure him of it. They used electroshock for that, didn't they? It'd be just like going home.
Then he thought of what they might do to Steve if Bucky pulled a stunt like that, and what they would think of him even if they couldn't do anything. He caught a motion of Steve's arm that looked like it might be a hug and even that seemed too risky; Bucky offered his hand instead. Steve's smile stiffened a little, but he took it.
"You're gonna be all right, Buck," Steve said firmly.
"Of course I will," Bucky said. "You won't be here to get me in trouble."
Steve's smile warmed a little at that, and his hand tightened on Bucky's. "Jerk."
"Punk," Bucky replied automatically, and even that felt like too much to have let the officers hear. He turned quickly away, and let them escort him down the hall. He never heard Steve's footsteps going the other way.