“Cap!” Gabe yells, the sight of Rogers hanging on the side of the train filling his stomach with cold dread. “Cap, get back in here!”
“I gotta jump,” Rogers mutters nonsensically. “Gotta go get him.”
“Cap, what are you doing?” Gabe shrieks, reaching out and tugging at the straps on Rogers' uniform. “You want to fall?”
Rogers looks at him with wild, red-rimmed eyes and Gabe doesn't know what's happened but he feels a spark of fear shoot all the way down his spine. “Yes,” Rogers whispers. Gabe realizes Barnes isn't here, and that's when he knows, because there's only one reason Barnes wouldn't be here at Rogers' side (can't have one without the other, attached at the hip, a package deal), why Rogers would be standing where he's standing without Barnes screaming at him to get the hell back inside, why his eyes are unfocused. There's vomit on the front of Rogers' uniform and splattered onto the side of the train and Gabe feels like adding some of his own.
“Where's Barnes?” Gabe makes himself ask, lips numb from cold and the sudden terror zipping through his blood. Rogers doesn't even answer, just slumps some more and Gabe's heart is in his throat because Rogers looks like he's going to let go any second.
Gabe wants to reel back, wants to demand that Rogers quit joking around, there's no way Barnes isn't just fine, but he knows this isn't something Rogers would joke about. Rogers couldn't fake that emptiness in his eyes. But Gabe can't let him give up now. He yanks hard to get Rogers back in the train.
“We've got to take Zola in!” Gabe reminds him, and there's the fire back into Rogers.
“Zola,” he spits. He dives back into the train and is striding toward the front before Gabe can blink.
“Cap.” He has to jog to catch up. “Our orders are to bring him in alive.”
“Accidents happen,” Rogers hisses. His hands are clenched so tightly into fists it looks painful. He has no color whatsoever in his face, so strange when he's usually blushing at some off-color joke Barnes or Dugan cracked. Gabe wants to let him do it, exact revenge on Zola. Gabe was in the camp, saw Zola hand-pick Barnes for his little experiment after Barnes fought off a guard kicking a sick guy while he was already down. Gabe remembers Barnes walking off with his head up, telling Dugan to take care of the men, don't give up, tell his ma and his sisters he loved them and they should make sure his pension got where he wanted it to go, they'll know what I mean. Gabe remembers Zola walking around sometimes, past their work stations or their cages, a smug smirk on his face. And Gabe remembers all the other men who were taken never to return.
Part of Gabe is all too happy to let an accident named Steve Rogers happen to Zola. If it weren't for Zola, they wouldn't be on this damned train in the first place. And if they'd never gotten on the train, Barnes wouldn't—
But no. This is bigger than all of them, and maybe Gabe never knew Barnes like Rogers does (no one knew Barnes like Rogers does), but he thinks Barnes would've been pissed to high heaven if they didn't finish what they started. They need intel if they're ever going to stop their wild goose chase through frozen mountains and go home.
“We need his intel,” Gabe reminds Rogers softly.
“Need?” Rogers is hysterical, heaving gulping breaths that are just on the outside of sobs. “I need—how am I supposed to...?” He stops and turns away wildly, clutching at his hair, and Gabe's never seen him like this, completely out of control and without some clever plan. Gabe can feel tears stinging his own eyes as he remembers why, thinks about Barnes falling and there's not a single part of Gabe that doesn't know he went down screaming Rogers' name.
“Steve,” Gabe says quietly. “We have to stop Schmidt. We need Zola to do that. Barnes wouldn't want you—”
“Don't tell me what he wanted,” Rogers growls. “He wanted to live! He wanted to go home.” His big chest's rising and falling so fast it's almost alarming and Gabe doesn't know what to do. Rogers takes a long, deep breath and holds it, hands still shaking.
“I know, Cap.” Gabe hesitantly puts a hand on Rogers' shoulder and lets it fall heavier when it isn't shrugged away. “I know. But we need Zola. We need to get off this train. We need to tell the boys what happened. They're waiting for us.”
“I can't.” Rogers is going to start crying again and Gabe doesn't think he'll be able to handle it without crying too. They can't go into Zola's compartment bawling. He doesn't think Rogers should go in there at all, but someone has to escort Zola off the train.
“I'll do it, Cap. I got it,” Gabe promises. “Sit right here. Can you sit?” Gabe guides Rogers down, where he immediately draws his knees up to his chest and wraps his arms around them. Gabe knows Rogers went his whole life as a scrawny slip of a thing—Barnes told them all, told 'em a hundred stories—but it's always been impossible to imagine until now. Suddenly Gabe can see it clear as day, because Rogers somehow looks tiny. Gabe grabs the shield and hands it to Rogers. “You gotta hold this, alright?”
Rogers' whole body is trembling and the shield keeps hitting the floor of the train with a dull mechanic thud. Gabe bites the inside of his cheek, hard, to keep it together. Once they get Zola to Phillips, once they get off the train—then he can think about it.
Gabe doesn't remember much after that. He's heard people say that and never understood it, but now he does. He doesn't remember if he said anything to Zola or how long it took to get to Phillips. He just remembers staring straight ahead, chanting don't think about it over and over.
“Where's Rogers?” Phillips asks, and he sounds far away. Gabe blinks at him, trying to think, trying to form words. It's Agent Carter who gets it first, that something's wrong. She clasps Gabe's arm.
“What's happened?” She asks, calm but for the way her fingernails are digging into his skin.
“Barnes,” he manages to say. “The...the train.”
She covers her mouth with a hand, then pulls herself up straight and demands, “Captain Rogers?” Because you can't think of something happening to Barnes without asking after Rogers, and vice versa; sometimes it was as if they shared feelings besides just thoughts.
And as if he's been summoned, there's Rogers, walking up behind them. His face is blank and he doesn't even stop to talk, just gets off the train and heads for the barracks without a word. Agent Carter looks like she wants to follow, but Phillips says something softly to her and she stays put. Gabe doesn't wait to be dismissed, either: he goes with Cap.
But then there's the Commandos, and someone has to say it. Gabe walks in and sees four terrified faces, wide eyes watching as tears slide down Rogers' white, white face, as he shakes and tries to form words.
“Bucky...” He murmurs, and then he can't keep talking. They all look to Gabe, but Gabe's not sure what to say.
“The train,” he says. Phillips and Carter got it from just that. “He—in the mountains.”
It's disjointed and doesn't make a lick of sense, but between Rogers cramming a fist into his mouth and burying his face in a pillow and Gabe's halting words, they put it together.
“No, no, no.” Dugan shakes his head, like he can just deny it away. “No.”
“But...” Morita looks like someone just socked him in the stomach. “But he can't.”
Falsworth gets up and paces, because Falsworth can't sit still on a good day but something like this can't be stomached sitting down. He kicks his pack, kicks it again and again and howls.
Dernier looks at Gabe, brow furrowed, biting at his lip. “Qu'est-ce qui se passe?” He looks like he's hoping he's not understanding what they're saying, like it's a mistranslation, like any second Gabe's going to switch to French and tell him everything's fine. But his eyes are filling with tears before Gabe can even say anything.
Gabe sits down. He just sits right there where he is, even though they're in a tent and the ground is just dirt and it's a hard landing. Not as hard as Barnes had, his brain supplies, and he wants to throw up as he thinks about the jagged rock that had surrounded them, the snow everywhere. Would he have even survived to land at the bottom?
He digs the heels of his hands into his eyes, but he's fighting a losing battle against tears. Gabe's always prided himself on being a strong guy. He's lived through plenty, been spit on and followed down the street for nothing more than his skin, but he's been proud to say he doesn't let things rattle him. He came out of the camp not half bad; he's planned to come out of the war alright. But this. He's not getting through this without crying, and he doesn't much care.
Gabe thinks, with a hitched breath, Barnes wouldn't have stood for this. Oh, Barnes cried, Gabe knows that—in the middle of the night, when he thought no one would hear (Rogers always heard); out on watch when he thought no one would notice his red eyes when he came back (Rogers always noticed)—but he wouldn't have stood for them sitting around sobbing, not over him. He especially wouldn't take kindly to the state Rogers is in. He's not even crying anymore, Gabe doesn't think, just moaning lowly into the pillow and shaking almost into a million pieces.
Gabe can't imagine what Barnes would do if he saw Rogers in that state, because Gabe's never seen Rogers like this. He's never seen Rogers even close to this. He's never seen Dugan hold his hat over his face like he could hide behind it. He's never seen Morita rest his elbows on his thighs and cover his eyes. He's never seen Falsworth rip every last thing out of his pack and throw it on the ground. He's never seen Dernier sit completely silently, not a peep escaping him, not an expression on his face.
Gabe keeps thinking Barnes is going to walk in any second and start cussing Falsworth out for the mess, go sit right on top of Rogers and push his face into the mattress for the amount of noise he's making, words rough but hands soft and lingering across the short hairs at the base of Rogers' skull.
He'll come right in, Gabe thinks wildly. He's right behind us, sure he is.
He knows he isn't.
It's Dugan who goes to Rogers first, pulls Rogers up so he's sitting and wraps an arm around his shoulders. After Rogers, Dugan was closest to Barnes; he took it hard when Zola carried Barnes off to the tables. And then Falsworth quits kicking things and sits beside Dugan, and Morita takes Rogers' other side. Dernier goes in close to Falsworth and Gabe can see he can't go anywhere but beside Morita, so they're all in a line, huddling close like they're back in the mountains and can't make a fire for fear of giving up their location.
They'd huddled like this just the night before, sitting on a log, teeth chattering as Barnes told stories about tiny spitfire Rogers beating on guys twice his size so they'd all forget the ache in their bones from the slice of the wind, the hollow feeling in their stomachs because rations only spread so thin, shuffling around the order so no one had to spend too long on the end instead of sandwiched between two others. The memory makes Gabe's stomach hurt. How could everything change so quickly?
Gabe doesn't know how long they stay like that, sharing choked breaths, but eventually Morita pushes himself to his feet and tugs at Rogers' uniform. “You gotta change, Cap,” he says, probably most conscious of the fact Rogers is still in his Captain America getup because he's closest to the puke all over it.
“Have a shower,” Falsworth suggests gently.
The worst of it all is how Rogers looks—confused, almost. He blinks owlishly like he's not awake. He moves mechanically like he's not conscious. He stands there in the middle of the tent, swaying somewhat on his feet, unsure what he's supposed to do. So Dernier gets up and goes to Cap's pack, gets his dress uniform out for him. Dugan finds him a towel that was lying on top of one of Falsworth's piles. And Rogers just stands there, holding them.
“Come on,” Gabe says. “Come with me.” He leads Rogers to the showers, wonders if he needs to stay there with him, but Rogers starts stripping obediently. Gabe's about to leave when Rogers' shaky voice brings him back.
“Can you—there's a strap in the back.” There are tears in his voice again. “Bucky always does it.” And then he's sniffling and blinking hard again and Gabe wants to scream because it isn't fair. It's war, yes, so they know they could die. But they're not supposed to. And certainly not like that. He hadn't even been shot.
Gabe's hands tremble as he unfastens the strap. “Do you want me to stay?”
Rogers makes a little noise in the back of his throat but he shakes his head. “Thank you,” he whispers as Gabe gathers up the red, white, and, blue, so garishly bright right now. For once Gabe is glad for the drab olive of the dress uniform.
He goes back to the tent, where everyone is wordlessly helping Falsworth put his pack back together. They know they aren't done. They'll have intel on Schmidt by tonight, probably, maybe tomorrow, and they won't have time to wait. It feels like the world should pause for Barnes, but his death won't stop the war.
Cap disappears after his shower, and they let him. It will be his only time to grieve until the war is done. Dugan pulls out a bottle of whiskey and they pass it around quietly. Barnes' pack is sitting in the corner of the tent by the empty cot he's supposed to fill tonight. No one looks at it. They drink somberly, not speaking.
Some of the men from other units come knocking, but the heavy weight of loss sends them all reeling. No one wants to impose; no one wants to stay close in case it's catching. Agent Carter shows up at one point.
“Is St—Captain Rogers out?” Her hands are shaking just a touch.
“Hope he went to get a drink,” Dugan mutters darkly. She pauses in the doorway, perfect posture for once slumped.
“I am sorry,” she says softly. “I know how you all cared for one another. This loss is—we're all feeling this loss, but you most of all.”
No one says anything, bowed heads meeting her words. Dugan holds up the bottle. She nods once and takes it, throws back a quick swig and wipes away her ring of lipstick.
“We will send out a party,” she promises. “To look for his...” She clears her throat. “And we will send his effects to his family. But if there's anything you want—anything special to you, of his, that you think would be—and if Steve...” She trails off again. “Well, I expect it will be a few days before we can sort his things. If you want to. To look.”
It's not protocol; she's probably not allowed to offer. But it's a nice thing to offer, and they'll take her up on it. But. Not now. Not today when it's so fresh a wound, not when he packed his things himself this very morning.
It's not even dark when they decide to turn in for the night. There's nothing left to say to one another and they'd all like to end this day, each secretly hoping they'll wake up to Barnes throwing snowballs at their heads until Rogers chases him off and they tussle in the snow and let their legs get more tangled than is strictly proper. Dugan pours out the last swig of whiskey and they all nod at it, even though Barnes would have protested wasting good alcohol. They can hear the scuffle of other units around them outside but it's quiet in their cocoon. None of them sleep.
The night lasts on, finally going dark and quiet and Rogers still isn't back. They're all still awake. Dugan starts to sing quietly, and it only takes a second for Gabe to place it. It was one Barnes would sing all the time at the fire, hum under his breath as he shaved, whistle as he packed his gear, and they'd all studiously ignore the way his eyes cut to Rogers and the subsequent blush at the tip of Rogers' ears.
“If you're satisfied, I'll be at your side Sunday, Monday, or always,” Dugan croons, voice cracking. The song haunts their tent, probably will forever, along with the mess and the showers and Stark's transport plane, because it took dire conditions to shut up Barnes when Rogers was looking too serious, even after everything with Zola and the camp.
“Should we go look for Cap?” Morita whispers into the darkness after Dugan finishes.
“Leave him be,” Falsworth says. “His sense of duty will bring him back but let's just let him have one damned night.”
No one says anything after that, each mourning on his own, and Cap is back the next morning in time for briefing. He requests to be part of the search party and fumes when his request is denied. He's in his dress uniform again, and Gabe thinks it has something to do with respect; he doesn't want to be bright when his world feels dark.
Gabe can't say he's surprised when Agent Carter tells them later, makeup smudged by tears, that Cap's plane went down. None of the Commandos are particularly shocked. He'd come up with a reckless plan and Morita had told them in hushed whispers the day before he'd seen Rogers sitting on his knees, looking up and addressing Barnes, saying he didn't know how he was going to go back to Brooklyn without him.
It's fitting, Gabe thinks, that they get to go home soon after Rogers dies. The war hadn't stopped for Barnes, so Rogers had stopped it. He wouldn't tolerate the disrespect of continued fighting after his will to fight was all but gone.
They drink to Rogers and they drink to Barnes and then they all go their separate ways and go back to peace time. Gabe knows Dugan and Morita kept working with Agent Carter and Stark, forming some intelligence organization, but he turns down the offer to join. Gabe fought his war and was done.
Sometimes he wakes up hearing the last notes of Barnes humming. Sometimes he wakes up on Rogers' laugh. Most times he sees the rocks and Rogers' tear-streaked face and his heart clenches again because their bodies aren't resting together. It hurts his chest to think about.
“Oh, Gabe,” Jacques laughs at him over the crackling phone line. It's been almost ten years but he's just confessed to Jacques he still worries about their remains not being together. “They don't need their bodies anymore. What does it matter? Their bodies are apart but their souls are together.”
Gabe thinks that over, considers what he's always heard about heaven and hell and the kind of love they were in, and then he thinks about bravery and loyalty and courage and absolute steadfast devotion. He decides Jacques is right. Two souls like that can't be separated, not by death and not by any kingdom of heaven or hell. He thinks about that and he smiles. And he rests easy.