Steve awakes, not for the first time, lying in a narrow hospital bed surrounded by beeping machinery. Unlike the first time he woke up, however, there was no Sam or music playing softly in the background, just the faint hum of the many monitors surrounding him. A few more days and he would be out (or a few hours if he was able to work his good-little-catholic-boy-from-the-forties act on the nurses).
And Steve needed to get out. Desperately. While the world outside tore itself apart over the SHIELD collapse data-dump, all Steve could focus on was one thought:
Bucky was alive.
Bucky had survived the fall, he had survived time, he had been right there in front of Steve alivealivealive…
And he had no idea who Steve was.
The pure joy rushing through his veins at that sight of Bucky froze and shattered as a stranger’s cold eyes stared back out a familiar face. But no, Bucky had to remember him, he had to; how else could he explain the way Bucky froze, right before they crashed, or the way he pulled Steve to safety from the river?
I don’t think he’s the kind you save. He’s the kind you stop.
Echoing round and round his head, Sam’s words just wouldn’t let him be. But they couldn’t be true – Sam didn’t know Bucky - Steve had to save him. After all, Bucky would stop at nothing to save him.
Steve held his ground, standing strong as he could on skinny limbs, drowning in oversized clothes, while blood trickled from far too many parts of his face. Around him a ring of boys, only a few years older but almost twice his size, jeered and spat while taking turns to throw punches his way.
At eight years old, Steve looked no more than six, but that meant nothing to the boys painting bruises across his skin. It never did.
He had no strength left in his bony arms to raise a fist, let alone throw a punch. All his attempts were stopped easily and met with mocking laughter. So, Steve, far too used to his current situation, resolved to let the punches land until the other boys became bored.
That was until another small figure wrestled its was to the centre of the circle, positioning itself between him and the falling fists. Bucky, though only a year older than Steve, stood considerably taller and was able get in a few more kicks and punches against the older boys; though when the boys finally did leave Bucky and Steve looked equally battered.
Bucky never asked Steve what the fight was about – both were well-used to all the ‘but they were picking on her’ and ‘it was just a dog’ s. It was far from the first unbalanced fight Steve had found himself in, and far from the first time Bucky had stepped up to save him. But still Steve had to ask why he had to know why Bucky would keep throwing himself into danger, especially when the fights were always Steve’s fault to begin with.
“Easy, they have to know if they’re messing with you they’re messing with me.” Bucky could not have looked less threating – with his goofy smile and busted up nose – but the words made Steve feel as if he had an impenetrable army defending him.
Any excitement Steve had felt upon being released from the hospital had fizzled to a mess of nervous panic in the pit of his stomach. Through the gap of the door he could see the assembled people pulling out chairs to sit in a rough circle, and amongst the group: Sam Wilson.
Deep breaths Rogers, deep breaths.
He had told himself – and Sam – that once he was out of the hospital he would at least try therapy. It was something he had been considering for a while, especially after meeting Sam, but he was terrified to walk into the room. Attitudes changed, he knew that, but he didn’t even want to imagine the reaction to Captain America walking into a group therapy session. Even in his ‘civilian’ disguise of a baseball cap and hoodie, there was no real hiding of his identity.
Realising his heart wasn’t going to slow down any time soon, Steve slunk as stealthily as a six-foot wall of muscle could into the room, pulling a chair into the misshapen circle. A few of the gathered members glanced his way but there were no stares or exclamations of shock, for which Steve was immeasurably grateful.
Steve remained silent throughout the session, listening intently to the others veterans’ words. Though they spoke of vastly different wars to anything Steve knew, the words connected in a way he hadn’t thought possible. If only he had this in the forties, if only other soldiers he had known had this…
Thankfully, Sam never pushes him to talk, and looking around he sees that he isn’t the only one sitting back and observing. The session reaches the perfect balance between the SHIELD shrinks eager to dissect him and the agents flinging him back into battle.
It was nice to just sit and, for once, have people understand.
Steve decided not to go back to the group sessions; he had taken what he needed from them: the right to open up.
His therapy instead became regular meet-ups that ended up with the two of them talking about everything from their experiences fighting, to movies and music Steve had to catch up on, to Bucky. He talked about Bucky a lot.
They didn’t meet up to run together after their first meeting (which was definitely because Sam preferred to run alone, and he could keep up perfectly well, thank you very much), which led to the two of them meeting up in random coffee shops or park benches – much to the dismay of Sam (“The only people who hang on out park benches are goddamn pensioners”).
It was after two weeks of this that Steve finally caved and brought Sam to his new favourite place in New York: a humble café with a 1950s aesthetic and the most incredible apple pie (after his mother’s), of which he bought a slice for both of them.
Maybe this particular place didn’t alleviate Sam’s complaints about acting like a pensioner, but his smirk at the décor was enough to set Steve at ease, plus, they made good coffee. Steve couldn’t help but love the place – even though it wasn’t quite the time he had left it reminded him of home, and it was one of the few places he could go and be Steve and Captain America at the door.
Their waitress, a college student called Amelia who was often there when Steve visited and would excitedly tell him about her art project, placed the two slices of pie and steaming cups of coffee down on the table with a bright smile.
He could tell Sam was about to tease him for the choice of setting, but any remark died on his lips as he took the first bite of his pie.
“I know,” he said, only a little smug, “that’s why I come here.” He gestured his fork between the two plates.
“Man, how did you even find this place?” he barely paused long enough to speak because shoving another forkful into his mouth.
Steve shrugged, “Got bored, it looked quiet, out of the way, and once I tried the pie I couldn’t not come back.” He continued to fiddle with his fork but hadn’t actually started eating yet. “Its almost as good as my mom’s. Probably the closest I’m ever going to finding to it.”
Sam only smiled as he talked, knowing that Steve was setting up to a story.
“I tried to make it when I was a kid. Well, I mean, it was Bucky’s idea,” Sam’s smile fell slightly but both men pretended not to notice. As much as Sam had listened to Steve talk about the Bucky from before, the impacts of their first meeting clouded his mental image. Sam’s smile when his name came up was always polite, though seemed to be less forced each time. “it was my mom’s birthday and she always made it for us on our birthdays, so he said we should make one for her. Bucky’s mom even helped us buy ingredients. I think I was… eleven?... yeah, it didn’t exactly go well.”
The small kitchen lay a mess of spilled flour, used dishes, and (poorly) measured ingredients. At the epicentre two young boys argued, one hunched over a countertop, the other fiddling with the ends of his too-long shirt sleeves.
“I’m pretty sure you don’t knead pastry, Buck.”
“Shut up!” Bucky was pushing all over his body weight onto the counter, trying to knead the ball of pastry as much as possible, “I know what I’m doing. It said to make a dough. This is how you make dough.”
Steve only watched, a little concerned about the amount of force Bucky was putting onto the poor pastry, “pretty sure that’s bread.”
Bucky huffed in response and kept at his task.
By the time Sarah Rogers came home from her hospital shift the kitchen was a veritable mess and the ‘pastry’ that the Bucky and Steve had been working so hard on was stuck determinedly to the countertop. The boys braced themselves for yelling at wasting ingredients neither family had the money to throw away, but what they got was a pair of arms wrapping this into a tight hug and the almost inaudible whisper of “you two are too kind for your own good”.
Steve’s mother helped them clean up the kitchen, salvaging as much flour as possible, and helped de-stick the pastry and roll it out properly. Afterwards, she talked them both through the rest of the recipe patiently. She even told them how to ‘improve it next time’ rather than criticise their chewy pastry.
All the while, she thanked ‘both my boys’ for her present.
“After that, we tried to do it every year. Well,” Steve scratched the back of his neck sheepishly, “I say we, I mean Bucky. He got really good at it, I kinda just stood and watched. He was the only person who was ever able to make it like my mom did. After –” his voice dropped slightly, “after my mom died Buck kept making it for me. Until he got drafted…” Barely more than a whisper came out.
The happy far-away look in in his eyes shifted to something sad and distant, and Sam let him go off wherever his mind was taking him.
Sam still struggled separating the man who attacked them, and the man Steve spoke about, but it was getting easier and easier. He could see why Steve wanted to save him so badly. He recognised the look in Steve’s eyes whenever he talked about the other man. Even if he didn’t think that Bucky could be brought back, he had to try. For Steve’s sake. Because he recognised that look, and if he had a chance to bring back Riley, if he could just save him, he would do anything. So, anything was what he was going to do for Steve.