“No! No, you can’t take him away from me! Bucky, Bucky, look at me! You’ve got to remember me! Bucky, I love you. Please! Fight them!” Steve screamed, struggling against the guards that tried to hold him back from Bucky’s cryo tank.
Bucky turned towards him at the sound of the shouting, but Steve could tell he didn’t recognize him. He didn’t try to break the restraints around his chest and legs.
“Who the hell are you?” he asked, and there was none of the love they had protected and fought for in his expression.
Steve felt something inside himself break as he stared at Bucky. One of the agents that had been holding him back hit him on the back of his head. Going completely limp, he allowed himself to be dragged away, still conscious enough he could force his eyes open. He never looked away from Bucky as he was pulled from the room. But Bucky had already turned away, disregarding the man he had loved all his life, looking instead at the doctor that would put him under as if nothing was wrong.
Steve and Bucky were inseparable since the first day they’d met. Steve had punched Timmy Adams in the face for calling Suzy Queen ugly, and Bucky had stopped Timmy from kicking Steve while he was already down. After telling Bucky he’d had Timmy on the ropes, to which Bucky replied he believed him, they had become best friends. Them against the world, including bullies and illnesses. Through fifth grade, the only school year they had ever been placed in different classes. Against Steve’s mother being sick, though they lost that round. Through losing Bucky’s dad in a freak accident at the factory he worked at a year ago, leaving Bucky’s ma with Bucky, Steve, and her newborn daughter, Rebecca. Steve and Bucky had always thought nothing could tear them apart.
That was until they both woke up one day when they were sixteen and something was… strange. Steve was used to feeling sick, but this was different. He felt feverish, like he was burning up, but not weak. In fact, he felt the strongest he had in all his life. He staggered out of bed and tried to open the door to get to the hallway, only to rip it off the frame.
“Buck?” he said loudly, trying not to panic, propping the door against the wall.
“In here,” Bucky called back from down the hall in the bathroom, sounding totally wrecked.
Steve made his way slowly to him, opening the door slowly and carefully to avoid breaking this one too. Bucky was slumped over the toilet, which he had obviously used multiple times to empty his stomach.
“Oh, geez, Buck. You ok?”
Bucky wheezed out a laugh. “Hell no.”
Steve leaned over Bucky to flush the toilet and came away with the handle in his hand. They both stared at it for a moment before Steve whispered, “Me neither.”
Bucky shakily made his way to his feet and rinsed his mouth out in the sink. He looked at himself in the mirror a moment before starting down the hall. “Ma?” he called, unable to keep the fear out of his voice.
Steve followed, careful to not touch anything in case he broke something else. He didn’t even help Bucky when he staggered, because of all the things that could be broken in this house, Bucky was by far the most precious.
“Ma?” Bucky said again, going into the kitchen. Steve came up behind him and almost ran into his back when he stopped dead.
Bucky’s mom, Winifred, was sitting at the dining room table, watching the news and crying. Rebecca, Bucky’s baby sister, was in her arms, asleep.
She looked up as they slowly crept into the kitchen. Her red, swollen eyes widened as she saw them, then filled with tears again as she started sobbing.
“My boys… my beautiful boys. No… no…”
Bucky walked forward, going to comfort her, but stopped himself. “Ma, what’s happening? What’s wrong with us?”
Sniffing, Winifred gathered herself and sat up straighter, though she clutched Rebecca closer. “The government says that across the country, children are experiencing changes and should be brought in for examination if they are showing signs of any of those symptoms,” she replied, nodding at the television, as if unwilling to let go of her daughter for even a moment.
Steve looked and saw a list going across the bottom of the screen. It seemed endless: fever, confusion, vomiting, fainting, unprecedented agility or strength, newfound ingenuity…
“Apparently there have been cases all summer, but they are just giving out the information now. There was a spike in the number of people affected,” Winifred continued tearfully.
“Becca’s ok, right?” Bucky asked, reaching for his sister. Winifred recoiled away from him. Withdrawing his hands, Bucky tried to keep the pain off his face, but Steve saw it.
“She’s fine. Apparently, it’s just affecting teenagers. She doesn’t have a fever. She’s just sleeping, and I don’t want to wake her,” Winifred replied, trying to keep her voice light.
Bucky nodded, clenching his jaw tight so as to not let the hurt out. Steve came up behind him and instinctively put an arm around his shoulder, squeezing his upper arm to comfort him.
The crack of bone echoed around the kitchen before Bucky let out a shocked gasp and dropped to his knees, clutching his arm. Steve leaped back, horrified, because he had hurt Bucky, he had hurt Bucky, he had hurt Bucky.
Winifred screamed and leaped to her feet, but didn’t go to help her son. Instead, she scrambled backward, away from the pair of them, towards her room and slammed the door. Steve heard her starting screaming into her phone, and he hoped that she had called the ambulance to help Bucky because he was just sitting there, his face tight with pain as he tried not to cry and Steve could only stand over him in shock because he had broken Bucky, his best friend, the person he cared about most in the world. And he had hurt him. On accident, yes, but just the fact his body was capable of that, of that evil, made him look at his hands and feel like vomiting.
“Stevie, you gonna stand there and stare or help me out?” Bucky grunted, trying to mask the pain.
“Buck, I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to, I swear-” Steve babbled before Bucky cut him off.
“I know, Stevie, I know. C’mon, we need to go. Ma’s calling the cops.”
“What?!” Steve exclaimed, looking to Winifred’s door. He could still hear her voice, but couldn’t make out what was being said. “How do you know?”
Bucky shrugged, then gasped in pain. “Gotta be the illness or something, I dunno. You wanna stand around and figure it out or get out of here before the cops show?”
“Why do we have to go, though? The police could help us,” Steve said.
“Steve, I don’t know how. But I just know we don’t want to be brought in for testing,” Bucky replied, his blue eyes wide, his tone of voice firm.
Steve still hesitated. But then he heard sirens in the distance, and that made him spring into action.
“Stay here a second,” he said, rushing to their bedroom and grabbing the first bag he could find, which turned out to be his school backpack. He dumped out his books and the homework he had worked on just last night, which had seemed so important at the time. Steve quickly grabbed a change of clothes for both of them, the book he kept his life savings in between the pages, The Art of War , and finally the picture of his mother he kept on his bedside table, before he ran back to Bucky’s side, pushing his arms through the straps and buckling it for good measure.
Bucky had moved while Steve had been frantically packing. He was leaning against the door frame that led to rest of the apartment building, breathing heavily from just that much movement. Sweat was dripping from his forehead and his left arm hang limply from his side. He was Bucky, though, so Steve thought he still looked beautiful, despite the pain lining his face.
“I told you not to move, Barnes,” he scolded, trying to ignore the wail of sirens that got closer and closer. Not an ambulance, but the police.
“Well, you were taking too long, Rogers, and I’m a busy man, so couldn’t stick around all day,” Bucky teased back, regarding him with a look in his eyes that warmed Steve down to his bones.
“C’mon, I’m gonna have to carry ya,” Steve said, hesitantly holding out his arms.
Bucky didn’t even think about stepping forward, even though one of his arms was currently unusable because of Steve. Steve tried to fathom that level of confidence in him as he scooped Bucky up gently in his arms, bridal style. Bucky winced but otherwise remained silent as Steve made his way down the hallway, then the steps to get outside, and began to run down the block, away from where the sirens were coming.
It was incredible. The strength he was so afraid of pumped through his legs and propelled them forward faster than he had ever been capable of before. It felt as if Bucky weighed nothing in his arms, even though he was taller than Steve.
He was so preoccupied with his new found strength he almost missed Bucky shouting in his ear.
“Steve, they’re following us, I can hear them coming up behind!”
“I’m on it!” Steve yelled back, taking a right to try to throw the police off their trail. Only, he wasn’t used to his body still and took the turn too tight. Suddenly he was faced with the brick corner of a building.
“Oh, shi-” he muttered, throwing himself around so his back was the first thing to go through stone, not Bucky, as they crashed through the wall.
Bucky hissed in pain as they landed. Steve looked down to see that Bucky’s face was white, a bruise was blooming on his temple, and his lip was bloodied. He must have bitten it during the fall. Steve couldn’t stand to see him like that.
“Buck, you need a hospital. We gotta turn ourselves in.”
“Like hell, Rogers, we don’t know what they’ll do to you,” Bucky replied, shaking his head even as his face contorted with pain.
“Well, they could help you, jerk, so we’ve gotta,” Steve said decisively, getting up with Bucky still in his arms.
“No! Steve, c’mon, they’ll separate us. They might do experiments on you. I promised your ma I’d look after you. You can’t make me go against that promise now, Stevie. Not after everything,” Bucky pleaded, trying to struggle weakly in Steve’s arms, but Steve held him firmly yet gently.
“I’m sorry, Buck,” Steve whispered, then leaned down and kissed his forehead.
Taking advantage of Bucky’s shocked silence, Steve strode forward and said to the nearest pedestrian, “My friend needs the hospital and I would like to turn myself in for testing.”
Bucky regained his mental capacity when the ambulance showed up. He began to struggle again but Steve held him to his chest, being careful with his arm and with him in general. He would never forgive himself for hurting Bucky more than he already had. He didn’t know if he could forgive himself for the pain he had already inflicted.
“No, no, Steve, we can still get away, we can still make it. I don’t wanna lose you, ya punk, don’t make me leave,” Bucky started begging, scrambling around in Steve’s arms, trying to grab hold of Steve. But one of his arms was broken and the other was trapped between him and Steve. In the end, he only got a feeble grip on Steve’s collar with his pinned arm.
“I’m sorry, Buck. You need help and I hurt you. You shouldn’t be around me,” Steve replied, trying not to cry as he looked down at his best friend.
Bucky was crying as the paramedics approached warily. “Stevie, please…”
“You’re safer without me anyway, Buck,” Steve tried to joke, kneeling to gently set Bucky down.
Bucky’s eyes narrowed and his chin jutted out, staring defiantly up at Steve. His grip tightened on Steve’s collar and he dragged him down until their lips met. It was the first time they had kissed. It was angry and bittersweet and loving. It said, “I will fight to find you again. You’re my best friend. I’m with you ‘til the end of the line.”
They had woken up today with powers. But feeling Bucky’s lips against his own changed Steve’s world even more than his newfound strength.
And then it was over. The paramedics put Bucky on a stretcher and put him in the ambulance. The police showed up and put Steve in a van. He and Bucky shared one more look before the doors closed and all there was to look at was metal.