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Happiness is a choice

Chapter Text

The inside of the old, dilapidated warehouse is familiar to Bucky. The memory floats just below the surface, foggy and distorted, but sickeningly familiar. Every time he tries to grasp at the memory, it slips lucidly from his fingers. All he knows is he doesn’t like it, not one bit. His gut is twisting and writhing, as if he’s got a belly full of snakes. The smell is unpleasant, musty and it’s sticks to his throat as though he’d inhaled a lung full of dust. He couldn’t quite draw a full breath and he felt his diaphragm constricting in panic.

“I don’t like this Steve, I don’t like it one bit”. Bucky kept close to Steve’s back, protecting his six like he’d done so many times before. The mission was nothing new, nothing they hadn’t carried out a dozen times before. We go in, we get the bad guys, and we leave. But still the chill never left Bucky’s skin.

Steve gave a soft chuckle to indicate that he’d heard, thought he was ridiculous and was ignoring him. Bucky felt a prickle of annoyance that his gut instinct was just being shrugged off and gave a sharp huff through his nose. Yes, he had been known to be a little over cautious where Steve was concerned, and yes, he could also be a tad paranoid, but his instinct was never usually wrong. He had been trained not to ignore it.

It hadn’t taken Shuri as long as he’d thought for her to figure out how to get the damn programming out of his head. He suspected she already knew how to do it but had left him to rest for as long as she could. After the near civil war that took place in Wakanda and T’Challa deciding to open the city to the world, it was considered safer all around if Bucky was fixed up and sent on his merry way back to Steve. Bucky had been accompanying Steve, Sam and Nat on clandestine missions ever since.

It was nearly a year since shit hit the fan between Steve and Tony. As far as Bucky knew they hadn’t been in contact since that night in Siberia. It still made him squirm with guilt when he thought back to those few days, how he had broken up the Avengers, leaving Earth that bit more vulnerable.

It had been Steve’s incredibly dumb idea to go off hunting Hydra, terrorists or whatever goddamn bad guy that happened to pop up with Nat and Sam while Bucky had been frozen. It was safe to say Bucky had been livid when he found out. For once couldn’t Steve have done as he’d asked and at least tried to stay safe. Just. One. Damned. Time.
So that was why Bucky was back in the field. Pulling Steve back from fights and saving his ass. How he had survived this long on his own was a mystery. The guy wouldn’t know caution if it crept up and shot him in the back of the head. Which Bucky had prevented. On several occasions. Not that he was counting.

So that was what had brought them here. For the past few months, Hydra had begun to rear its ugly head from the stink hole it had crawled into after the collapse of Shield. It seemed to be getting more and more powerful as the weeks went on, with more bases opening all over the shop for Steve to drag them to and raid. Who was behind this sudden surge of activity was the troubling factor, and with the avengers scattered, they lacked the intel equipment they so desperately needed. But Steve being Steve wanted to plough on regardless, not being to one to want to make the first move in repairing his relationship with Tony, saying he would get in contact when the need arose. This meant they had been traipsing round the globe following any leads that Nat managed to dig up on Hydra without Tony’s back up.
Yes, T’Challa had been a massive help in presenting Steve with a new shield. But he had his own shit going on in Wakanda right now, what with opening it up to the world and everything. This wasn’t his war on Hydra, it was Steve’s and he was keeping very much out of it.

Which is why they were very much alone in this warehouse which was doing a pretty good impression of being abandoned, but if Natasha’s intel was anything to go on. It wasn’t.
So, Steve and Bucky were searching the facility for agents, while Natasha was looking for any data she could her hands on and Sam was circling above looking for any threats on the outside. At the moment they appeared clear.

Bucky was glaring at the back of Steve’s big, fat, stupid head. Cursing that he had once again allowed Steve to lead them both into danger. And Steve was oblivious. Damn Steve, damn hydra, damn them all.
“Your grinding your teeth again” Steve turned to Bucky with a glint in his eyes. He was glad someone found this funny. Steve’s eyes roamed over his face before concluding “you worry too much”.

Bucky felt his face soften when Steve’s eye were on him, and his stomach squirmed for an entirely different reason. Steve suddenly held up a hand to silence him, even though he hadn’t actually said anything. Bucky raised his gun up closer to his face, ready. That was when it happened.

The sharp burst of static that filled his comms unit, was loud enough to make him wince and lose his concentration for second. No longer than a second, but that was all it took. At the same moment a rumble burst through the air, shaking the floor of the facility as an explosion ripped through the wall closest to them, sending them flying backwards into the air.

Bucky’s head hit the ground with a loud crack, which made his vision go black around the edges. He felt his temple split open with the sharp impact, blood pouring into his eyes as he tried to fight the falling debris to get to Steve.

Everything was dark. He couldn’t see. He was wet. Was it raining? Was it blood? The debris still fell around him, knocking him back down to the floor. He couldn’t breathe, something had fell on him. The roof was falling in. He was crushed, his breath stolen by the cloying dust. He could hear voices, gunshots, more explosions. Who were they? Was it his comms or was it someone else? Everything was swimming, he couldn’t make sense of anything, the world was tilting, and his feet couldn’t quite get a grip. He clawed blindly with his metal arm, hoping to clear away some of the rubble burying him. He was suffocating, he was dying. Where was Steve… Steve… Steve… Steve.

It was then he noticed the silence. The building had stop exploding but it was creaking ominously. The voices had stopped. The gunshots had stopped. It was then his arm managed to push its way through, clearing a space big enough for him to crawl towards the light which he could just about focus on in his swimming vision.
He burst out from under his pile of rubble. Bits were still falling from the ceiling, and the walls were cracked and shaking. There was no one there. There was no Steve.

“STEVE!” The word ripped from his throat, with so much anguish he was surprised his heart didn’t tear out of his chest. He started stumbling blindly, trying to get to his feet but falling down again. “STEVE!”.

“Barnes?” The voice was close to his ear, and Bucky tried to look around him before he realised it was his comms. It was Sam. “Barnes, Steve! Get outta their right NOW. This building ain’t gonna hold much longer. I got Nat, she’s safe. Where the fuck are you guys?”

“Sam...? Sam… where’s Steve… I can’t see… I can’t see Steve” Bucky slurred, dust from the rubble coating the inside of his mouth making it difficult to speak. Why was the damned room spinning?
“Damn it man, I have to do damn everything round here…” Sam’s answer was drowned out by the blood flowing in Bucky’s ears. He had heard a moan. He had heard it. He tried to stumble in the general direction of where he thought the sound had come from, but everything was so dark and confused he felt like crying. His foot connected with something soft and squishy and he went tumbling back down to the floor.

This time his outspread hands managed to break him fall. Pieces of metal embedded themselves in the palm of his flesh and blood hand. It was when he brought his hand to his face he caught the unmistakable metallic scent of gun metal… and blood.

“…Buck?” A weak voice rose from behind him. Bucky spun on his heels and saw Steve. Steve...

He was half buried in rubble; his legs were trapped. Bucky tried to heave him out but stopped when Steve let out an agonized groan that tore Bucky’s heart to shreds.

A chunk of roof fell a close distance to them, causing light to stream over the both of them, allowing Bucky to take in the extent of Steve’s wounds. His legs were trapped under heavy concrete blocks, he wouldn’t be able to move them on his own, not when he could barely keep himself upright. But that wasn’t the worst of it.

Steve’s torso was dotted with gun shot wounds which were bleeding profusely. Blood was dripping from his mouth, nose and ears. Each breath was a rattle in his chest, the blood bubbling at his lips.
“No…no…nonono….nonono” Bucky felt like all the wind had been knock out of him as he crawled to Steve’s side. His flesh and blood hand shook with tremors and his metal arm whirred as he tried to put pressure on the wounds, but there was too many for his hands to reach, even with both palms spread out. The fabric of Steve’s uniform was sodden.

“Stay with me Stevie… just keep breathing… don’t leave me please, please don’t leave me” Bucky begged as tears poured from his eyes, mixing with the snot dripping from his nose as his chest heaved.
Steve tried to speak, but it came out as nothing more than a wet gurgle. “Don’t speak sweetheart, just keep. Your. Heart. Beating. Okay?” Steve’s eye’s started to lose focus, and his head lolled to the side. Bucky pulled him into his lap. “Look at me sweetheart, just keep looking at me okay? I love you so much Steve. I know I’ve never told you that before, but I do, so much. So much it hurts. You’re my best guy, my best friend, all I’ve ever wanted to be is by your side. And I am now, aren’t I?” Bucky paused to wipe away the tears that had dripped onto Steve’s face. “To the end of the line remember? It’s not the end yet! It can’t be! I’ve waited 70 years to be with you again, sweetheart. Your damned not leaving me now! Please Stevie. Please just stay!” Bucky stroked Steve’s face, his hair, anything he could reach. Rocking him back and forth in his arms.

Steve’s face suddenly cleared, the pain slipping from his face as if a mask had been removed. He moved a blood-soaked hand to cup Bucky’s check. Bucky held his hand tight against his face, blood sticky against his skin. Steve’s chest heaved, like he was trying to draw breath, trying to tell him something.

“Take… the… take t-t-the… shield… you… y-y-ou… need too” Steve pointed at the place where his star used to reside, not talking about the awesome vibranium shields that had been strapped to his arms, but one much more familiar. “They…n-n-need… a hero… you… b-b-be that… hero… for… what’s c-c-c-oming”. Steve moaned at the pain the effort caused him. His breathing became shallower, like he couldn’t draw enough air. Bucky could see it bubbling in the blood which was seeping from his chest. Seeping now, not pumping.

“What do you mean? You’re not leaving me, I won’t let you!” Bucky screamed through his tears, “You’ll get your stupid ass back to Wakanda, and we’ll get Shuri to fix you up. Then we’re going home. Because your my fucking Stevie, and we need you! I need you! Don’t leave me here on my own!” Bucky wailed.
But Steve’s eyes were already clouding over, and his hand slipped from Bucky’s cheek, “B-b-b-bucky…It’s… the…t-t-the…end-d-d-d of… t-t-the line” The last word came out on a sigh, taking with it Steve Roger’s last breath.

He slumped in Bucky’s arms as the pain and the tension fell away. And he died.

All Bucky could hear was screaming. He rocked Steve’s body in his arms, as he cried harder than he ever had in his whole life. He couldn’t breathe, he couldn’t think. He felt his heart shatter in his chest. Surely, he would die, no one could endure pain like this. It coursed through every inch of his body. His heart was splintering.
He didn’t see Sam land beside him. He didn’t hear Sam pleading for him to let Steve go, to move, to do something. All he knew was that Steve wasn’t breathing. Steve was getting colder and colder in his arms.

Bucky just went limp.

He didn’t feel Sam’s arms around him as Steve was man handled from his grasp. He didn’t register that Sam had his hands under his armpits. He didn’t register that he was floating up. Up and away. Away from Steve.

Steve was lying there as the building caved in over his body, and the dust shielded him from sight. Bucky thought that above the commotion, he could hear a laugh. High and cold mingling in with his screams…. Steve’s screams. Screams. Screams. Screams.

It was then that the screaming finally woke Bucky up. He bolted up in bed, awash in tears, breath caught in his throat. As reality hit him over and over again like a crashing wave. He clawed at the sweat soaked sheets which clung to his skin, trying to get them away from his body. He couldn't breath, he couldn't think. All he knew was that there was a gaping hole in his chest where his heart used to be. Before it was torn from his chest. Before it died along with Steve. Why couldn't he have died too? He grabbed his pillow, stuffed his face into it and screamed. Over and over.

Screamed his grief. Screamed his anger. Screamed his heart break.

Steve was gone.

Chapter Text

Bucky splashed cold water on his face, hoping it would help alleviate some of the exhaustion that clung to every part of him. It didn’t. He had been avoiding sleep like the plague, and literally only allowed himself to drop off when he literally couldn’t force his eyes to stay open any longer.

Every time he closed his eyes. Every time he went to sleep. He was back in that place. Forced to watch as… as Steve died. Again, and again. It was driving him insane.

Looking up into the mirror above the white porcelain sink, Bucky took in his reflection. His face was far too thin; the cheeks hollow and the eyes sunken. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d had anything to eat, he was never hungry and often forgot. His eyes were blood shot and ringed with dark circles which stood out against the pallor of his skin.

His hair was lank and stuck to his neck, bathed in the remnants of last night’s sweat. A beard shadowed his chin. He looked awful.

Steve would have been pissed.

It doesn’t matter what Steve would think, Bucky thought angrily to himself as he turned away from the mirror in disgust. Steve wasn’t here to see him, and that’s all Bucky cared about.

He went through into his bedroom. The sheets were still in disarray and his pillows were scattered on the floor. He kicked one out of his way as he went over to his wardrobe and took out the first items of clothing his hands touched without really paying attention to them. They were all the same anyway; dark jeans, dark t-shirts, dark jackets.

It was still dark outside, the sun having not yet risen. Bucky pulled a cap low over his eyes and zipped his jacket up to just under his nose. It was true, New York was the City that never slept, and Bucky was not going to risk being recognised, he was not in the mood to be disturbed. Not that he ever was.

He had taken to walking the streets of New York whenever it was dark, and he was avoiding sleep. Winter was slowly melting into spring, but the night air still had a pleasant chill that soothed his tired and aching face.

He didn’t know how many days, weeks or months had passed since it had happened. He tried not to think about it.

In the first few days after it happened, he’d been catatonic. Unable to move, unable to speak, unable to process anything. Everything passed by in a blur as he struggled to cling to reality and rejected it every time he got a hold.

Steve couldn’t be dead. He just couldn’t.

But he was. He knew it was hitting Sam and Nat pretty hard too, but he couldn’t reach out to them. He was just locked in his own head. Drowning in his grief with no idea how to reach the surface.

It was all his fault. If he hadn’t become distracted for that one second, maybe he could have pushed Steve out the way. Shielded his body from the explosion. But it wasn’t the explosion that killed him, was it? Bucky angrily berated himself. It was gunshot wounds. There had been an enemy target and you had been so fixated on Steve, you couldn’t protect him, and you let him die. Your fault. Your fault. Your. Fault.

He hadn’t even been able to protect Steve’s body. After Sam had wrestled him away and the building had collapsed over Steve’s prone figure, fires had begun to erupt as the collapse caused further explosions. The fires burned for days, and with such ferocity, there was no chance of ever recovering a body.

Sam and Nat brought him back to New York, that much he remembered. After that, nothing would stick in his brain. It all slid away like mush as each day blurred into the next.

Surprisingly, it had been Tony that had helped him out. Not that he realised that at the time. It seemed Tony had long since gotten over the feud between himself and Steve and was devastated at his loss.

It was Tony that had helped clear his name, along side T’Challa. When Tony had had a chance to cool down, and research into what had happened to him, he was appalled. Clearly, he’d not been aware of the extent of the torture hydra had inflicted upon him. He’d set him up with a place to stay in Brooklyn, close to where he and Steve had lived growing up. Bucky supposed Tony thought this would be comforting to him, but quite often it just brought back painful memories of happier times that he wasn’t ready to think about yet.

The only upside of his new living accommodation was that it was secluded and in a slightly quieter part of town. The whole building was owned by Tony, and all his neighbours that had moved in had been meticulously vetted before even being allowed in the building. It was a new project that Tony had set up with Sam, providing homes for ex vets and PTSD sufferers. All of them knew what Bucky had been through, and all treated him respectfully.

Of course, not everyone acted this way towards him. Many people still viewed him as a terrorist and believed he shouldn’t have been allowed to walk free. Who was he kidding, they thought he should have been killed right there on the spot. Bucky himself was uncomfortable with his lack of punishment. Apparently, the courts had thought he’d suffered enough in the hands of hydra, but Bucky didn’t think so. He deserved to feel every inch of pain he’d inflicted to his victims. He had killed people, even if he didn’t know what he was doing. He’d killed Steve.

As Bucky walked up and down sidewalks, not really paying attention to where his feet took him, he thought of Sam and Nat. They had been so good to him lately, even though he had tried to push them away. Sam came round to his apartment most nights with pizza or other take out food. Sam attitude towards Bucky had greatly improved since what had happened, and he was always reassuring Bucky that he was there whenever he wanted to talk.

Bucky got the impression that Sam wanted to talk to someone about Steve himself. He believed Sam was bottling up his emotions concerning his friend, desperate as he was to be they’re for everyone else. Bucky wished he could reach out to him, so that they could get through this together. But he couldn’t. It was like they’re was a sheet of glass separating him from everyone around him, and no matter how hard he tried, he just couldn’t break through it to reach those on the other side.

Although Bucky loved Sam, it was Natasha’s visits he looked forward to the most. There was no offer of talking from her. She knew that Bucky would open up when he chose to, and the he knew she would listen if that time ever came. She mostly came around with a bottle of Russian vodka that they would pass between them in silence through the night until the sun rose in the morning. No conversation, no communication. Just two people sat together, their thoughts on the same person, but no words were needed to express how each was feeling. It was strangely comfortable.

The sun was just beginning to peer above the horizon, turning the sky into a beautiful blur of pinks and oranges. Bucky thought of how much Steve would have loved to have painted this, and his eyes welled up with tears. Steve would never see the sky again. Bucky would never get to see Steve see the sky again. See how his eye’s glistened with joy whenever he beheld anything beautiful. How he got that crease between his eye’s and he sucked on his bottom lip as he tried to commit the image to memory, in order to paint it later. Bucky had always wanted to kiss away the crease in his forehead whenever he did that. But for fear of being pushed away, he had always resisted.

Bucky’s biggest regret was that he would never get to tell Steve how he felt. How much he truly loved him. How his heart and soul yearned for him, no matter how much life tried to tear them apart.

Steve was his soul mate, and he was gone.

On his way back to his apartment, Bucky stopped off at the only other place apart from the Avengers facility and where he lived, that he frequently vacated.

A small coffee shop near his block of apartments. Sam had tried to introduce him to the modern wonder of coffee shops as soon as his name had been cleared and he was free to walk around in public. Although the drinks were delicious, Bucky had found the crowded and noisy space claustrophobic and struggled to breath as people pressed in on him in all directions. His struggles with concentration since Steve’s death had rendered him almost incapable of reading the simplest of sentences, let a lone a menu whose contents was completely foreign to him.

These visits always filled Bucky was dread.

It was at a meeting in Avengers facility, when he’d walked in slightly frazzled and out of breath, clutching his coffee cup like his life depended on it, that he’d been enlightened of the place.

That day Nick Fury had paid one of his rare visits, and clocking Bucky’s slightly wild expression and the injured coffee mug he’d been squeezing to death, had exploded with, “What this shit you drinking? Mother fucker, ain’t no one took you to no proper coffee place? Ain’t nobody can drink this shit!” It was then he had suggested a quieter place, where the drinks were much better. The advice had been totally unexpected to Bucky, as he tended to have as little to do with the other Avengers as was humanly possible. But never the less, he had followed Nick’s advice and paid a visit after the meeting was over.

It was true the place was quiet, with hardly any people filling the rickety old wooden tables. The place was peaceful and calming. Two of the walls were filled with shelves upon shelves of books, which the customers could take out as they pleased. If Bucky was able to read, he would certainly had made better use of the novels that surrounded him.

The shop was decorated in delicate pastel colours, so it wasn’t too blaring like so many places in the modern age. The tables and chairs were all mis-matched, as were the customers who tended to come in. It added to the atmosphere of the place. It was somewhere Bucky could go for peace and was not judged, or particularly regarded at all.

A spiral iron stair case stood behind the counter, leading up to the flat above. The shop was run by a young girl in her early twenties, if not late teens. She had dark auburn hair and bright green eyes, which always regarded Bucky laughingly, as if she found something extremely amusing about his presence. Although Bucky found it slightly disconcerting, it was better than being regarded with fear.

The first time he had entered, he was filled with dread when regarding the menu, as all the word’s swirled around out of focus in his addled brain. With no Sam to choose for him, Bucky went for whatever the middle-aged woman before him had had.

The young girl’s round, gold rimmed glasses had slipped to the end of her long, crocked nose as she regarded him through them. Her eye’s brows raised mockingly, and a smile twitched the corners of her lips.

“You sure dude?” She’d asked, trying to keep the smile out of her voice.

He’d only grunted in reply, and when she’d asked his name he’d looked at her blankly which only made her smile stretch wider.

“You know so I can write it on the side? They do this at Starbuck, man? I’m trying to be modern and hip here”.

“Oh… right. Bucky” He winced as soon as he realised he’d given his actual name, he was all too familiar with people’s reactions when they figured out he was the winter solider. If she didn’t know who he was, she surely would now. But he expression never changed. He eye brows were still raised mockingly and her mouth still twisted in a smile, she told him to take a seat and she’d bring it over.

When she brought the drink, it was viscous and green. Bucky didn’t care for its appearance, but he couldn’t really taste much anyway nowadays.

It wasn’t until he’d thanked her and went outside he noticed she’d not wrote Bucky on the cup at all, but Mucky.

Every time he went in now, she just simply asked if he wanted his usual. She had the annoying ability to appear to see straight through him, but she made a refreshing change from everyone else around him. So, for that reason he put up with her.

“Usual, again is it my man?” She grinned, when he’d opened the door.

Not feeling in the mood to chat with her today, he’d only grunted. When she brought the plastic take out cup, she regarded his face from behind her glasses.

“You okay today chum?”

Bucky regarded her warily, as he pushed the money towards her “Fine.”

“Only you look worse than yesterday, and that’s saying something, because you looked pretty awful yesterday”. Although her words were intended to be humorous, he couldn’t help but catch the concern which laced them.

“You really know how to make a guy feel good” He’d almost spat at her, hating the goodness of this strange girl. He didn’t deserve her concern, he didn’t deserve anyone’s concern.

She narrowed her eyes at him, as if she wanted to say more. But instead she turned her back and began cleaning tables, allowing Bucky to escape unobserved.

This time when Bucky looked at the cup he realised she’d wrote Yucky. Every time he went in there she wrote a different name, most of them sounded like Bucky, but sometimes she put a completely different name like ‘Mike’. He didn’t know why she kept doing it, surely, she knew who he was, and if she didn’t than that in itself was strange. How many Bucky’s do you see walking around New York City that so closely resemble the Winter Solider? But it never failed to make him smile slightly.

Chapter Text

Bile rose up Bucky’s throat as he angrily ripped the sweat and vomit-soaked sheets off his bed.

That night he had been on the verge of collapse and was unable to abstain from sleep any longer. He’d reluctantly crawled into bed, and before he’d even pulled the sheets up to his chin he was asleep.

Nothing about the dream had immediately alerted him that anything was amiss. His dreams alternated between Steve’s death, Azzano and his many years as the winter soldier; although Steve’s death was fast becoming the most recurrent one. He’d almost cried out in relief when he recognised the familiar setting of Azzano around him. He wouldn’t be watching Steve die tonight.

The first indication that anything was amiss was when he realised he wasn’t strapped down to the table as was usually the case in this type of dream. He was free to walk about the room, examining the instruments on the table in front of him. He passed a knife between both his flesh hands, admiring the weight and the balance.

The sounds of a struggle alerted him that he was no longer alone. Spinning round, the sight before him made his whole body go cold and he felt himself sag to his knees. No. Not this. Anything but this.

Steve was being manhandled into the room by two Hydra guards. Not the big, strong Steve that was so familiar to everyone as Captain America. But his little Stevie.

His lip was burst open and his smashed nose was dripping blood. Purple bruises mottled the skin under his eyes, whose whites were stained red with broken blood vessels. He was crying out for Bucky to help him, but Bucky couldn’t move. It felt like he had melded with the floor and was frozen in position. Zola and the Red Skull followed Steve into the room, wide grins spread across their faces.

“What are you doing!! Let him go!!” Bucky screamed, the sound ripping from his throat. Either Zola didn’t hear him or paid him no heed, as he instructed the guards to strap Steve to the table, barely casting him a glance. “STOP!"

“Ahhh but Sergeant Barnes, ve cannot. De procedure as alreade started” The Red Skulls words were laced with glee.

“What procedure? What do you mean? Why is he here!! It should be me!!”

“Sergeant you are becoming forgetful. It is you who brought im ere.” The Red Skull regarded Bucky with laughing eyes. “In exchange for your life, you bought im to uz”

“NO! I’d never! Let me take his place, please!!” Bucky screamed. Tears streamed from his eyes and into his mouth. He tried to lurch towards Steve, but it was like his body was frozen.

“BUCKY!!” Steve wailed, as the straps were fastened around his wrists. “Help me please, I’m sorry! Okay, I’m sorry for whatever I did to you! Just please don’t let them hurt me! I’ll do anything I swear, just help me!”

“Please not Steve, anyone but Steve!! Hurt me instead, I’m the one who deserves it! Not him.”

As Zola fiddled with the machine which would deliver the electrical impulses to Steve’s head, he regarded Bucky over his glasses and laughed. “And yet, in life, you were more than appy to urt him. To let him lose his friendz, hiz life, for you. Yet you hide from de truth.”

Steve turned his head to look at Bucky, his bleeding eyes looked at him with hatred. “YOU? You did this?” The look of betrayal on Steve’s face made Bucky want to gag. “Why didn’t you just die! Why didn’t you give up! I could have been happy! I could have married Peggy, but instead I avenged you! And this is how you repay me!”

“Stevie, I’d never hurt you! I love you!” Bucky sobbed as his heart cracked in his chest.

Before his eyes, Steve grew and morphed into the bigger Steve. Looking just as he had the night he died. His whole face hardened as he looked at Bucky, “and yet I’m dead because of you.” The words were spat from between his broken lips.

Bucky felt his legs move without his control. He was an observer in his own body, unable to control his own movements. He wanted to back away, go anywhere just as long as he didn’t have to look at Steve’s face any longer. But his legs carried him to stand before Steve on the table.

“Sergeant, you may do ze honours” The Red Skull pointed to the control panel which would deliver the electrical shocks. “Pull ze leaver. You know how it iz done.”

Bucky screamed ‘no’ at the same moment his arm reached out and pulled the leaver.

The electricity fizzled as it connected with Steve’s head, before it was drowned out by Steve’s screams. The room filled up with the stench of burning flesh, which caused Bucky to gag. Steve’s body convulsed violently, and he bit through his tongue. But still the screaming went on, and on, and on as blood dribbled down his chin from his mouth.

Zola silently handed Bucky a gun. “End him.”

Despite every nerve of Bucky’s being attempting to resist, his arm reached for the gun. He clutched it in his palms as he aimed at Steve’s head. Steve had just enough time to look at Bucky with so much hate it was painful to behold, before Bucky fired the shot.

It was then that Bucky had bolted up in bed. Soaked in his own sweat and promptly vomiting onto the sheets which cocooned him, as the smell of burnt flesh still clung to his nostrils.

The rest of the night had been occupied with Bucky finding the most uncomfortable position possible. His back pressed into the wall, his nails dug into his palms, a bottle of whiskey beside him.

After Bucky had shoved his soiled bed sheets into the washing machine, he had slid down it onto the floor and put his head in his hands. It was true. Steve would still be alive if it wasn’t for him. Hell, he’d have been HAPPY if it wasn’t for him. If he had never been captured, Steve would never even have entered the conflict. He could have spent the whole of the war selling sales bonds or whatever. He probably would have married Peggy, had a ton of kids and not even spared a thought about him again. He would have moved on.

The knife rack on the counter caught Buck’s eye in the glittering morning sun. Pulling himself up from the floor, he walked over and took one out. It was long and sharp. The blade catching the rays of sun and glittering temptingly.

Bucky pressed the edge of the blade to his flesh wrist, making an indentation in the skin. All it would take was one cut and he would feel something again. Something other than the guilt and the anger and the grief which was suffocating him. The pain would be a welcome relief. He deserved to feel pain.


 

“I don’t know if I’m worth all this to you.”

Bucky’s eyes were vacant. It had been a long time since he had been in the midst of a battle and his muscles were aching from the exertion. Memories from his past whirled around in his frazzled brain. The screams vibrating against his skull, blood filling every corner of his mind. The faces he’d beaten to a pulp, the heads he’d shot, the throats he’d slashed. Each image flashed before his eyes and each caused a deeper stab of guilt than the last.

“What you did all those years, it wasn’t you.” Steve’s voice had been firm and cool. Bucky could picture the self-righteous, stubborn expression that was most definitely gracing his features.

But the hands that had pulled the triggers had been his own. The legs that he kicked fully grown men to their deaths with had been his. The fist that had delivered the final blow, his own. His eyes had beheld his victims in their last moments, and his ears had heard their final pleas. He may not have been in control, but there was no escaping the fact it had been him that had done it. He had done it all. The guilt and the memories that now flooded him so completely were a testament to that.

“I know, but I did it.” Bucky fixed the back of Steve’s head with a steely glare, awaiting his reaction. Steve paused, as though he wished to speak, but seemed to think better of it and merely sighed, his attention returning to controls in front of him. Bucky felt his stomach lurch. Maybe Steve was just as disgusted with him as the others. He knew Sam distrusted and disliked him for a fact, and the others had kept their distance. The only one who had shown him any shred of understanding had been Clint, and what would he think of Bucky now that he was incarcerated for defending him? For the first time Bucky felt truly alone. “You got nothing to say to that, Stevie?”

Steve heaved another deep sigh before swinging round in his chair to face Bucky. His head was bent forward, and he was massaging the bridge of his nose between his fingers as though warding off a headache. “I’m getting this all wrong. I want to say the right thing to you, and I’m trying to show you that I kind of understand! When I worked for Shield I killed people, I fought people and I carried out orders. Because I thought I was doing what was right. When I found out that Shield was just Hydra, it was like my whole life, everything I had known, was a lie. I felt guilt and anger and humiliation. I had been used and lied to. I may have hurt innocent people for the ideology of Hydra, and I was in control of myself then! I knew what I was doing! We’ve both done terrible things, the only difference is I acted because I thought I was doing the right thing and you had no choice!”

Bucky scoffed, “It’s hardly the same Steve. You’re a hero to the nation, a living legend.” Bucky quoted the museum reel he had heard so long ago now, Steve’s mouth tugged itself into the shadow of a smile.

“Hardly a hero. Ultron said I was a murderer, and maybe I am. The accords pretty much spell that out.”

Bucky rolled his eyes. “Your about as far from a murderer as you could possibly fucking get, Steve. You’ve saved the world god knows how many times and for every goddamn idiot that thinks you’re a killer there’s about a dozen more that think you’re a hero. No one will ever see me as anything other than a killer.” Bucky ducked his head, avoiding Steve’s piercing gaze. He couldn’t bare being pitied.

Steve stared at him hard. “I don’t see you as a murderer.” Steve reached out and tilted Bucky’s chin up so their eyes could meet. Sky blue meeting the churning ocean. “You’re my Bucky, and no matter what anyone says or thinks, you will always be my Bucky.”


 

Bucky let the knife slip through his fingers and it clattered the floor. He felt his knees sag from under him and he folded to the ground.

Steve had been the only one to believe in him. When everyone else was holding him at arm’s length, it had been Steve that had scooped him up and held him tight. Steve had gone through hell protecting him from every threat that came his way. How could Bucky face it, if the one threat that destroyed him, was the one he posed to himself.


 

Bucky sat hunched over at a table in the corner of the coffee shop. His cap was pulled low over his eyes, hiding his face from any curious onlookers. He picked nervously at the skin around his finger nails. He was meeting with Tony the next day to discuss a new tenant moving in across the hall from him; he hated those little meetings. Hated the feelings of guilt and self loathing that clung to him for days afterwards. 

A sharp screeching brought Bucky’s attention back to the present. The girl who owned the coffee shop had set his order down on the table and had pulled out the chair opposite him, in which she gracefully sat down in. Silence stretched out before them as Bucky willed her to go away. He pushed the coins across to her and fixed her with glare which would have sent anyone else reeling; but her eyes never left his face and her smile never left her lips.

“Okay, so you’ve been coming in here for nearly a month and you still want that thing!” She exclaimed, pointing at his drink and screwing her nose up with disgust. “I’ve been holding my tongue, but I’ve gotta know what’s so appetising about a blended cabbage patch? I mean I’ve had more exciting gunk come out my nose.”

Bucky continued to glare, and she continued to grin. “If you hate it so much, why do you sell it?” He’d answered flatly.

The girl stretched her legs out in front of her as she regarded him contemplatively. “I don’t. I changed the menu two weeks ago.”

Bucky looked up at the menu in alarm. Sure enough, the foreign scribbles were different to the foreign scribbles which had littered it the last time he’d looked at it. They were a different colour too. How the hell hadn’t he noticed! “Oh. I’m so sorry. I didn’t notice.”

The girl laughed sadly at him. “Go figure.”

“Why keep making them me if you don’t sell them anymore. You could have just told me.” Bucky grumbled, feeling his cheeks redden in embarrassment.

The girl looked nonplussed as she took her glasses off to polish the lenses. “To be honest, I don’t mind. As long as it makes you happy.” She put the glasses back on her nose and grinned. “I’m in the business of making people happy.”

Bucky was stunned into silence.

“I don’t drink them because they make me happy, I just don’t really know what else to try and…” He trailed off into silence, why did she care so much about making him happy? Unless… “Look, if you have a crush on me or something and you think this is going to make me like you. I’m sorry but- “

“...Wow wow wow man” She cut him off, waving her hands with a horrified look spreading across her face. “I’m not into you like that dude, you’re like old enough to be my… well your old. And anyway, you’re not even my type.” Catching Bucky’s frown her ears turned red. “Not that I’m saying I don’t think you’re a decent looking bloke! I just mean you have a little too much between the legs for my liking, if you know what I’m saying. I’m gay.”

“Oh. Right.” Bucky shifted awkwardly in his seat, he still wasn’t used to how casually people admitted their sexuality nowadays. It had always been such a forbidden topic in his day, he thought bitterly. “Then what do you want from me?”

For the first time she looked serious and unsure of herself. She paused as if considering how to respond to the question. “I just thought you could do with a friend. If you’d like, I’d like to be your friend?” She picked nervously at a loose thread on her jumper, looking anywhere but at him. Was she actually nervous about his response?

“Why would you want to be friends with someone like me? You know who I am don’t you?”

She went from picking at the loose thread to picking at the skin around her fingers. “Of course, I know who you are. I’ve heard about what you’ve been through and…” she sighed, shoulders slumping. “I’m fucking this all up, but I just thought you looked like you could do with someone to talk to… someone that’s not connected to all that shit.”

Bucky collapsed back in his chair. He couldn’t wrap his mind around this strange girl. “If you know who I am, why are you always getting my name wrong?”

This time to red tinge spread from her ears to her cheeks and she started to nurse her lip between her teeth. “Oh. that was just me trying to break the ice. But you’re like a glacier dude it’s pretty hard to do.” She laughed nervously and paused as if wondering whether she should continue or not. “And there’s so much emotion attached to a name. Yours more than most. I thought maybe, it be nice for you to be someone different. Even if it’s just for a time…”

Bucky sighed, what the hell, what the harm could it do. Bucky held out his hand.

“James Buchanan Barnes. But you can call me Bucky, all my friends call me Bucky.”

Her head shot up, and she smiled so wide that her eyes creased up in the corners. She reached out her hand and shook his, surprisingly firmly. “Rebecca Smith. My friends call me Rikki.”

Bucky felt his heart lurch at the name. Rebecca. Someone he’d tried not to think about since he had been back in New York. Since he found out she was dead. Bucky felt a lump forming in his throat and his eyes began to sting. Wanting to make a quick get-away he pushed the coins towards Rikki and stood up to take his leave. But she stopped him.

“Next time I’ll get you a proper drink, not that blended cabbage crap!” She handed him the coins he had just pushed over to her. “And friends don’t pay. See you tomorrow… Bucky.”


 

He’d almost decided not to go back to the café again. Almost.

Kindness was something he struggled to accept. He didn’t deserve it, not after what he’d done. After the people he’d hurt. Maimed. Killed.

Sam kept telling him to let people in, but every time he tried, his guilt just became even more stifling. That little bit harder to bare.

But the nightmares that night had been so bad, he’d been in a state of dissociation. Stumbling the streets of New York until the sun was just starting to peer over the horizon, with no connection to the people around him or his surroundings. When he came back to himself, he was sat outside to door to the café, waiting for it to be opened.

After that, there hadn’t been a day he hadn’t gone back. Rikki always greeted him with a smile, and never failed to cheer him up. She seemed to be able to judge his moods like no one else could. If she could see he was lonely and in need of a chat, she would sit with him a while. If she could see he wanted to be left along, then she’d leave him well alone.

Over the weeks they had become close friends, and true to her word, she had introduced him to the world of modern drinks. Now every time he visited he was presented with a different concoction, which she would name for him, and get him to rate for her the next time they saw each other. She said she was trying to find his drink kink.

One morning, after he received his daily drink experiment (Mint chocolate chip Frappuccino), he noticed a delivery van was parked out side of his apartment building. Tony had told him to expect a new tenant, as he had finally found some suitable to live across the hall from Bucky. Everyone in the building was vetted to the extreme to make sure there were no more Zemo’s after some up close and personal time with the former winter solider. Even though the programming had been removed from his head, there was still plenty of people who thought he was still loyal to hydra… and those who felt he hadn’t been justly punished for his crimes.

Bounding up the stairs two at a time, he came a cross an old man leaning grumpily against the wall, directing the removal men from outside the apartment opposite Bucky.

“Goddamn it, not there! Haven’t you listened to a word I said, young man? Over there! No not there, THERE!” He jabbed angrily with his walking stick for emphasis. Catching Bucky’s eyes, he sent him a cheeky grin, ‘These young’uns, not even half as clever as they think they are.” The young delivery driver angrily barrelled out of the apartment and went to push past Bucky.

The older gentleman clicked his fingers to get the young man’s attention, he barely stifled a groan. Clearly this had been going on for some time. “Young man, I think you’ve done enough damage now. Leave the rest on the sidewalk, and this strapping gentleman can help me from here.” He said, jabbing his thumb towards Bucky.

The deliver driver could barely contain the joy that spread across his face, but he soon paled when he saw who the old gentlemen was addressing. “You sure man? Because umm Mr. Stark told me to take good care of you, and I don’t want him thinking I’m shirking my job…” The youngster nervously shifted from one foot to the other, clearly wanting to get as far away from the two men as possible.

“Sure as hell. I don’t need any more scuffs on my paint work, get outta here!” The delivery driver turned his nervous gaze upon Bucky, looking anywhere by directly in his face. Bucky let out an annoyed sigh. “Sure, you get yourself off, we can take it from here.”

The youngster didn’t need to be told twice and almost bolted away, but the older gentleman called him back again. The older man pressed a handful of green notes into the younger man’s hand, “I may be a grumpy ol bastard, but that don’t mean I’m not a grateful one. You get yourself something nice and thank you for providing an old man with a mornings worth of entertainment. Now get the hell outta here!”

The younger man thanked him rapturously, before bolting away, terrified of being called back again. The older gentleman had to lean forward on his battered walking stick as he laughed to himself. He held his hand out for Bucky to shake.

“The names Patch, Patch Dayrani. Word is, the two of us gonna be neighbours!”

Bucky shook his hand and was surprised by the firmness of the old man’s grip. “Bucky Barnes, nice to meet you Patch. Bit hard on the young’un there,” Bucky gestured towards where the delivery man had escaped, unsure about the old man’s tone. Patch laughed, amused.

“Yeah, I guess. I’m just so used to doin’ stuff me self, find it frustrating sometimes when the young ones start taking charge. I’m not as useless as I look you know!” As if to prove a point, Patch flexed his arm, displaying to Bucky rather impressive muscles for a man of his age. “Now shift your ass, we got furniture to bring up.”

Unsure of how to take this elderly gentleman, Bucky downed his drink and followed him cautiously back down the stairs.

The remainder of the morning was spent luging to remaining furniture up the stairs; and true to his word, Patch wasn’t as useless as he looked. He lifted the furniture with an ease that left Bucky in awe, brushing off his compliments, stating that age was just a number and he enjoyed keeping fit.

“It was the army, drilled that into me. The days not started properly unless I got a good run under me belt.”

When everything was in the apartment, Bucky insisted that Patch take a break and he would help arrange the furniture to his liking. To Bucky’s surprise he found he was actually having fun, almost as much as he had with Rikki in her shop. There was something about Patch that he liked, something like coming home.

He realised they had similar back grounds. Patch had also fought in the army and had been employed in a clandestine service. He didn’t go into too much detail about his time in the service, stating that he still found aspects of it difficult to comprehend and he didn’t mention Bucky’s war time back ground, other than to say it had been long before his time, a fact that Bucky was grateful.

Bucky asked if Patch had any family, he discovered he had a daughter living in Washington.

“I try and visit her as much as I can. She got young ones you see, and I like to see them growin up. So, if you don’t see me for a few days at a time, don’t go worrin. I’ll just be with her. Think that’s why Stark liked me s’much. Out and about a lot, so you can get your peace.”

When the furniture had been arranged, and Patch finally declared he was satisfied; both of them laughingly wiping sweat from their brows, as the sun was shining directly into the apartment, casting everything in a golden sheen and making it stiflingly hot. Patch went over to the newly filled drink’s cabinet and pulled out a bottle of whiskey, pouring them both a generous serving.

The rest of the afternoon and into the early evening was spent with the two of them slowly making their way through the bottle. They had each other in stiches as they discussed the modern world, and the difficulties they had had working out the new technology.

When Bucky finally managed to say good bye, the sun had long since dipped below the horizon. He felt exhausted, each muscle felt like it weighed a tonne. He had a meeting with Tony and the other Avengers the next day, one he could not miss. Maybe he would be okay tonight. Maybe he was so tired the dreams wouldn’t come.

Bucky’s vision blurred with tiredness as he flopped onto his bed, still fully dressed. The day’s activities had certainly tired him; probably from the lack of food he thought to himself; he couldn’t even begin to remember the last time he’d eaten anything half decent.

Bucky curled up with a slight smile on his face. His last thought before oblivion engulfed him was that maybe it would all turn out okay after all. He had two new friends under his belt, surely that could only be a good thing? Maybe he could make Steve proud. Finally. 


 

A pair of eyes lighted upon the apartment window, watching intently from a rooftop above the café across the street. After months of planning, of observing, the plan was finally coming together. They had earned his trust, and he would never see it coming. Finally.

He would pay. They would make sure of that.