“I’m sorry. Steve, I’m sorry, I’m so fucking sorry, but he’s — he’s gone.”
“You can’t tell that from here, Sam, y-you—,”
“I can. I promise you I can.”
“…L-let me see, then, let me— you could be wrong, just let me—,”
“/Steve/, I am your best friend and I love you and I am not going to let you do that to yourself.” He tightens his grip on Steve’s cheeks, pressing their foreheads together. “You know me. And you know if — if there were /any/ chance of me being wrong, I’d’ve dragged you to him myself. But man, don’t do this. I need you to just — just /trust/ me when I say there isn’t. There isn’t, and he’s gone, and you do not need to see just how /gone/ he is. Okay?”
Steve stares at him, sobbing and ripped open from the inside and trembling, and all he can say is, “He must’ve been so cold.”
Neither of them notice the pair of eyes watching them through the thickness of the forest, just as neither of them notice how “Bucky’s” corpse had the armband of HYDRA on its arm, and the uniform of a “handler.”
Even with the best of intentions, it is never wise to jump to conclusions.
Bucky stares at the retreating figures and sinks back onto the earth, his right arm wrapped protectively around himself. He knows what he SHOULD do. He knows how fucked he is, knows that the Winter Soldier still mechanically recites Russian in his head, and he knows that, if he were a selfless, kind man, he’d let Steve mourn him instead of burdening him with all this…luggage. And although he ISN’T selfless or kind, he figures he might as well try to be. For Steve.
And so he does. For several months, in fact, although how many he can’t know for certain. But Bucky pulls himself up by his metaphoric bootstraps and trundles away from his scene, a gun snug against his hip and his handler’s wallet in his pocket. Armed with one arm. The thought makes him smirk, which is about as close to a smile or laugh as he can get these days. He makes his way down the mountain over the course of weeks, allowing himself to stop way too often to rest, or hunt, or just admire the scenery and pretend he isn’t a zombie. The cold air is biting and stinging against the now-exposed stump of his left arm, the kind of sting that radiates into his shoulder and down his spine. He gets used to it. All the little aches and pains in his pathetic excuse of a body he gets used to.
Some of those rests are in the vain hope that if he stops walking, stops /trying/, his heart will too.
It never does.
When he gets to the base of the mountain, a journey that should’ve only taken hours, he limps off towards civilization, ignoring the looks he gets from skiers and resort folk along the way. He finds himself a motel nearby, and the money in his stolen wallet is enough to get him three nights. His gun gets him as long as he damn well pleases. He didn’t used to be this violent, this aggressive, but he doesn’t really have a choice now.
So, room to himself at long last, Bucky double-checks the exits, takes a shower, triple-checks the exits, crawls under the covers, and rests.
It’s already been two months since he was found dead at the scene.
Oh, how he wishes it were true.