Most nights, when he’s taken enough ecstasy to forget his middle name, Bucky can believe that the watercolour illustration running down Steve’s neck was made my his own teeth. They work separate nights, Steve taking the relatively light strain of weekdays and Bucky fucking his way through Saturday and Sunday; it’s Monday, they haven’t even kissed in two weeks, and Bucky has to watch Steve patch up his hickeys without making a sound.
Steve’s always too tired to say goodnight and Bucky wouldn’t give him the courtesy of being a ghost’s simile – at least ghosts haunt, scrabbling at the walls and flickering lights to beg someone, anyone, to pay attention to them. The closest Steve comes is a child’s image of a God: present until proven otherwise, but dissolving with each passing winter.
It’s nearing Christmas when Bucky spots the clumsy track marks sullying the last pure expanse of skin on Steve’s body, the pale crook of his elbow where Bucky used to leave the most reverent kisses. The universe, already detached via three Mary Jane’s and a generous helping of Clint Barton’s filthy moonshine, blurs at the edges; someone’s taken an eraser to the corners of Bucky’s eyes and rubbed until the blood vessels burst, concentrating every last iota of visibility on the languid flow of Steve’s arm as he waves goodbye.
Steve pauses by the door. “I thought you were out of it,” he states, staring at their miserable excuse for a hat stand.
“Y’thought wrong, Stevie,” and that’s what it takes for Steve to turn around. Bucky grins like there’s glass in his gums, blood seeping into the frigid December air as words and looks and a small orphanage’s load of dirty laundry being cleaned in Time’s Square. “You fuckin’ shot up?”
“So what if I did?” Steve retorts. Even half-starved and bone tired, he still manages to drag his skinny shoulders into a defensive, proud stance. It’s a glimmer of the old Steve, the sixteen year old with too many opinions and the most beautiful, fragile sense of hope that Bucky fell in love with every minute in his presence. Teenaged Steve was a goddamn miracle.
What’s that bullshit saying? You die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become a monster?
Bucky likes to think Steve is buried back in Brooklyn.
There was a funeral. Sarah Rogers wept. The sky was an incandescent blue and Bucky moved in with a foreigner’s pagan deity for penance.
He wishes he could say these things aloud. God knows it might take the edge off his ravenous, desperate loneliness.
“I miss you.”
“I fuckin’ miss you, Steve,” Bucky groans into the carpet. He has no memory of ending up on the floor, but the regularity of these kind of lapses, he doesn’t particularly care. “I wanna – fuck, I just wanna see you again.”
“I’m right here, Buck.”
“Don’t – don’t fucking—” say that, Steve called me Buck, you’re not Steve, oh god, you can’t be Steve –
Steve’s phantom sighs. “I’ve got a John in five,” he says quietly. It’s so close to his Sunday confessional voice that Bucky wants to scream until his lungs give out. “Goodbye, Bucky. Don’t wait up.”
It’s rather anticlimactic; the door shuts with a gentle, definite click and Bucky is left alone in a leaking apartment. And that’s it. He stays on the floor, eyes squeezed tight to see fireworks explode behind his lids. It’s a damn sight prettier than dust motes settling on spare condoms.
The fourth of July has nothing on the pyrotechnic bonanza in Bucky’s head. It makes sense: he remembers Steve on his fourteenth birthday, all hormones and freckles and seven types of medication he had to take before dawn, looking up in awe at the display. It’s put on just for you, Bucky used to lie. Everyone’s celebrating for the most important boy in the universe.
They don’t watch the fireworks anymore.
But if you want to define optimism, imagine this: inside Bucky’s head they never stop searching for more light.