Steve awoke slowly. His body ached everywhere. He knew he had just woken up but … he was so tired. He lifted his head to find that his neck seemed to want to kill him. His shoulders too. And his back. But he felt quite relaxed… There must be something in the air.
Where was he ? He closed his eyes, trying to remember what happened. He had been working in the middle of some ruins, lifting debris to let people look under those. It had been a really hot afternoon, unlike the previous day when Tony had came back.
Ah, that was it. He had collapsed in the middle of the ruins. He didn’t remembered a lot from there. A glimpse of broad shoulders who had carried him to a hut where he had been deposed on a sparse bed which had been weirdly comfortable. He remembered waking in a jolt, a woman by his side. She had helped him with several things such as drinking, eating a little… And she had promised that someone would wake him in time to assist to Shuri’s coronation.
Which meant, if the sun starting to rise was any indication, that it was the morning. He had slept almost the entire night, without nightmares. She must have drugged him. He couldn’t find in him to resent her.
Steve slowly opened his eyes for the second time and took the time to assess his surroundings. It was indeed a hut. A familiar one. No wonder I feel relaxed, he thought, as a vice squeezed his heart, this is Bucky’s hut.
The blond sat in the bed and looked around. Next to the bed was the dark scarf Bucky wore to hide his stump. He took the fabric and shakily brought it to his face. Yeah. It smelled like him.
Steve allowed a single tear to roll down his cheek before he got up and started to get ready to leave.
Five minutes later, he was headed to the palace to prepare for the ceremony, Bucky’s scarf around his neck.
Steve sat alone in the room where T’Challa and him had discussed after he came to Wakanda for the first time. Natasha had swung by to see how he was, and had left him to go find Bruce. She would probably go to Clint’s in the evening. So here he was, looking out through the window, lost in his thoughts.
“I recognise this.”
He lifted his head to look at Shuri. This was not surprising. Logical, in fact. She might even have seen it more often than him. He lowered his eyes to look at the beautiful dark scarf. The last time he had seen Bucky wearing it had been months ago when he last visited.
“I...” he started, before stopping. He wanted to say something, but didn’t know what. He tightened the fabric around his neck and placed it under his jacket.
“You don’t have to hide it.”
Was it what he had tried to do ? He didn’t know. Maybe, maybe not... There was a lot he didn’t know. But if he had tried to hide it, it wasn’t consciously.
“No one will judge you. Especially for this.”
He nodded. That, he knew. Not here in Wakanda, not with her.
“He talked about you a lot, you know.” Steve lifted his head to watch the young woman. The Queen, he reminded himself, crowned this morning. She was facing the window, a few feet away from him. “He would tell me about your youth. About the war, too, when you were in the Howling commandos.”
She turned and came to sit next to him. She seemed not to mind doing all the talking, so he remained silent.
“He would tell me happy memories mostly, but sometimes he would share the bad ones too.”
Steve nodded, then spoke for the first time in hours. His chest was tight, but he could speak. “Before… Before he fell of the train-” Before a part of his heart was ripped from his chest “we had never been separated for more than two months. We grew up together. We were there for each other. He protected me from bullies, even when I didn’t wanted him to, he supported me when my mother was sick… When she died.” He hadn’t thought about her in a while. She had been so fierce, his mother.
“And I was there for him too. At first, I didn’t know why he stayed with a skinny kid. But I finally came to the conclusion that he just liked me. He could talk with me about a lot of things, some he didn’t dare mention around other people. He could be himself. He knew he could stay with me when he needed some air, too.”
Steve paused some seconds to take a deep breath. “Eventually, we were just attached by the hip. Never really far from the other. Best friends, till he end of the line.”
There was a moment of silence, as both were lost in thoughts, Steve relieving some memories. Eventually Shuri spoke again..
“I have to confess I had started to believe you two were more than that.” She looked him in the eye, her head slightly tilted to he side. “I mean, he spoke so highly about you, and you seemed so at ease with each other.”
“We always have been. Well, before Hydra that’s it. What you saw… was still not how we used to be.” He ran a hand on his face. “Before everything went down, we didn’t even needed words to communicate.”
They knew each other by heart. They were so close, sometimes I felt like they were the two parts of the same person. When Bucky fell, it truly had been as if a part of his heart had been ripped away.
“But...” He started.
“I’m not so sure now.”
Shuri frowned. “I don’t think I understand… ”
Steve looked at his hands in his lap. How could he explain ? “I’m not sure it’s only friendship.”
“Have you ever felt something else then ? Or thought about him in another way ?”
Oh, yes. Definitely.
He had wondered what it would be like to kiss someone with a beard. How it would feel against his skin. Would it bother him? Would he like the roughness of it ?
And, more important, how would those lips have felt against his ? Would they have fit, would they have been soft ? Slightly cold, or warm ?
He had imagined himself kissing Bucky. Had pictured how his right hand would have crawled on Bucky’s neck, cupping the back of his head, while the brunet would have been doing the same. Then he would have circled Bucky’s waist, his hand going to rest in the small of his back, pressing their bodies together.
There was another time, where he had wondered how Bucky’s slightly calloused fingers would have felt, on other places. If Bucky’s skin would have been soft or not. How he would have been different from a woman, and in what the experience would have been similar. He had imagined the pupils of Bucky's eyes eating his irises, to the point where his eyes would have been almost black, lost in pleasure. Had wondered whether or not the brunet would have been noisy, how his voice would have weakened while the pleasure built.
He had pictured the face of his friend, contorted yet beautiful, when the time of release would have come.
“Steve ?” Shuri asked, effectively distracting him from his… heated thoughts. “You are starting to blush.”
Damn. He felt his cheeks redden even more at this surge of embarrassment.
“So.. I’ll take that you gave it a thought, right ?”
“Recently, yeah.” He admitted. “But I’m not sure I’m...I was really interested.”
“What do you mean ?” She asked, gently placing a hand on his knee.
He ran in hands in his hair and sighed. This was so frustrating !
“Maybe it’s more, maybe it’s just curiosity. Look don’t get me wrong, I know it’s okay not to be … I know people don’t have to like a gender, or the other, or even to consider only two genders, but… It’s still a little strange for me. I still have trouble to grasp the meaning of it.”
“You know there are possibilities but you do not know if one of those applies to you.”
Steve stood up and crossed his arms over his chest. His head was starting to hurt a little, hurray !
“When we were young, it was different. You would be mocked, insulted, harassed, you could be thrown in jail because you didn’t love the good person. I though about it a lot. Maybe I could have repressed feelings by fear ? I know it’s possible. Hell, I repress ordinary feelings all the time when on missions, so I could totally have done the same. Back in that time, I was already mocked because I was too skinny, and was interested in art. Bucky… He was the only one who never looked me down.” He said, his voice wavering at the end.
“And then came the war. We never asked for it, you know. When I agreed to take part to the project Rebirth, I did it because I felt I had to do something. Thousand men were fighting in Europe, and because I wasn't healthy enough I never got my orders. I felt so useless... So when the opportunity came, I took it. But things went down and instead of being the first Super soldier, I became the only one. Except it was even worse. For a while I was just a dancing monkey. I was loved by civilians, mocked by soldiers. I still felt useless. The only one who treated me as a regular guy, before and after the serum, was Peggy. I remember meeting her. I was so impressed !” He paused. She had been someone, Peggy. So strong, but soft when she wanted. Always fair. “I loved her.”
Thinking about her was still painful. They could have had something beautiful. The only comfort he got was that she had lived her life and had seemed quite happy.
His guts were starting to twist as well. Damn, he was a wreck.
“I kissed her niece, actually.” He said all of a sudden.
“That, is a little weird.”
“Yeah. At first, she was just the girl next door. I was definitely attracted to her, but that was it. I never really tried anything more. I just kissed her before we decided to fly to Siberia. And thinking of it now… I realise that at the time I just had learnt who she was. It might have pushed me… I don’t know.”
“You can love both, you know.”
“And it is also possible that you are not attracted to men, but Bucky was your exception. It is not common, but nothing about you is anyway.”
“You are right. I admit I didn’t really thought about the later.”
Both of them stopped talking, lost in thoughts. Maybe Shuri was right. He had never really be attracted to guys -not that he had had that much time, or envy, to go out -. Maybe Bucky was, no, had been his exception. Damn, why was his brain so tricky with him ? Bucky was no longer there, he had to stop thinking differently. No, stop. He couldn’t let his thoughts go there. He would not crack. Not now. But it has been four days already, supplied his mind. Traitor. His chest felt tighter and tighter as minutes passed by. Breathing was something that started to be hard.
He shook his head to get back to the conversation he had been having with Shuri. The sweet girl, who had lost so much too.
“I don’t know if I started to imagine things because I … really started to see him another way, or if it is out of curiosity. You know, knowing you can do something sometimes makes you feel you want it, even if in truth you don’t. And maybe the love I feel is the kind you have for a sibling ? I cannot compare, I was an only child.” This sounded even worse than in his head. He was trying to explain, really. But it was hard. How was he supposed to explain something he didn’t know ??! He sighed, and went back to sit next to Shuri and fixed his gaze on the floor.
But either she had understood him, either she was more informed because she took one of his hands in hers and whispered.
“It is okay to feel confused Steve. Maybe as you say it is curiosity, maybe it is not. I personally think it is the latter, but you’re the only one who can know that. You have to figure it out.”
How was he supposed to figure it out ? He had planned to see where his relation with Bucky evolved, to let it happen on its own. One way or the other.
But Buck wasn’t here anymore.
Steve could feel tears gathering in his eyes. He lifted his head to look her in the eyes and said, his voice trembling. “But if Bucky was really my exception, how can I figure it out without him ? I’ll never know.”
He would never know. He would never know if he was in love with Bucky and could have be with him in every way because Bucky was dead. He closed his eyes and the entire scene replayed in his mind. Thor, planting his axe in Thanos’ chest. Thanos, escaping. Bucky, calling him, fear and incomprehension clear in his voice. Bucky, who had looked at him, terrified. And then.. and then...
The reality came to hit him like a truck. All was left of Bucky were memories, clothes, some items, and a pile of dust. The name of the brunet left his lips at the same time tears started to fall.
He felt gentle arms guide him down and circle his shoulders. He hid his face in the crook of her neck and sobbed for what seemed like hours.
Apart from Nat and Shuri, he was alone now. His team was gone. Bucky was gone. He had died before his eyes, again.
And that hurt like hell.