The first flecks of snow began to fall in the early evening, the last tendrils of the winter sun disappearing below the high rise buildings.
Bucky’s metal hand was curled in his coat pocket, like a hibernating carnivore, but his flesh one, gloved and shielded from the chill, was intertwined with Steve’s as he led him through the Brooklyn streets.
They’d started walking together, in the evenings. Bucky was tired of running, and a stroll after dark when the pavements weren’t so crowded helped set his mind at ease. Took the edge off his instincts honed from all those years a stranger in his own head.
Brooklyn never slept however, especially not as the year drew to a close, and the throngs of pedestrians were enough to keep him close to Steve’s side. It was familiar, this proximity. Bucky felt it in the streets, retracing their steps from lives long left behind.
A late-night Christmas shopper knocked hard into his side, and Bucky stiffly handed her back her bags branded with companies he’d never heard of. He barely registered her reluctant thanks, over the rush of blood in his ears.
“Proud of you” Steve whispered, taking his hand again and squeezing reassuringly. Bucky ducked his head, the adrenaline fading. It was true, mere months ago, weeks even, he would have reacted very differently.
“I’m okay” he said, because he knew how Steve worried. Even if he didn’t let on.
“Yeah you are” Steve grinned, pulling Bucky in for a side hug that left him a little giddy as they continued down the street.
It hadn’t been long that they’d been back like this, together, away from the pain. Six months, and thirteen days. Long enough that it would hurt, really hurt, to be snatched away again. Bucky hadn’t quite given up expecting to be.
He was roused from his thoughts by Steve tugging gently on his arm, directing his attention to a market, stalls decorated with lights and holiday ornaments. The people milling there were clutching steaming takeaway cups, the citrusy-cinnamon scent of mulled wine warming the air.
They didn’t venture further in, just stood at the corner. They had somewhere to be after all. Bucky’s gaze soon returned to Steve, liking the way lights twinkled in his eyes more than the decorations themselves.
He allowed himself a small moment to stare, affection welling up inside him at the tinted redness of Steve’s cheeks in the cold, the serum not quite countering the December night.
Steve checked his watch, and Bucky felt the loss of his arm around his waist immediately. Guilt rose in his stomach. He’d only let go for a moment, but Steve’s touch was grounding, an anchor in the shifting city.
“You ready to head back? It’s almost time” said Steve. Bucky nodded, with a frustrated twist of his lips at the sheer relief settled over him when Steve looped his arm through his. He shouldn’t need him this much. He wanted him, sure, had since before he could remember, but he shouldn’t need him.
Christmas music blared sharp and sudden from a battered speaker nearby, but Steve guided him to the other side of the market, humming a Hanukkah tune loud enough to calm Bucky’s senses. He earnt a wide smile from an elderly man wearing a yarmulke, and as they exchanged greetings as they passed Bucky couldn’t help but remember that the whole world needed a Steve. Not just him. Someone to make them smile, lift their spirits. It made him feel less of a burden.
Steve’s words played in his mind as they navigated back through the streets of Brooklyn. Almost time.
There were no candles lit in the windows they passed, but Bucky sifted through the scrambled memories, trying to find something of his childhood. He’d heard the stories so many times from Steve, he wasn’t sure if he remembered the tales or the memories themselves. It was like watching his own life through a misted pane of glass.
Steve had hesitantly mentioned Hanukkah to him about a fortnight ago. Bucky wasn’t surprised he broached the subject carefully. Their few small attempts to celebrate the High Holidays hadn’t ended well, with Bucky spending Rosh Hashanah curled up in the small space between the toilet and the bathroom wall, the door firmly bolted.
Amnesia troubled him more often than not, and on bad days, like those had been, he couldn’t remember who or where he was. Whether he was there to love Steve, or to hurt him.
The past two months had made some difference, however. Bucky still had bad days, still struggled with placing himself, remembering which year it was, and what that meant. But he’d taken it slow, tried not to push himself too hard, too fast.
The smile that lit up Steve’s face like the Christmas trees he was so fond of when he accomplished a goal, however small, made it worth it.
Reaching their street, Bucky felt some of the tension leave his shoulders at the more familiar environment. Their flat wasn’t a million miles away from their childhood homes, small and cosy, but this time around, there was always food on the table.
Fishing out his keys, Steve started up the short flight of stairs to their door, before stilling half-way up, mouth falling open a little as he turned. Bucky immediately halted, scanning the surroundings, cursing himself for letting his guard down. Panic began to rise in his throat, with far too many pedestrians to make out a Hydra operative. He reached for Steve blindly, hoping to at least cover him, but he paused when Steve’s hands were already reaching out to him, a delighted smile spreading across his face.
“Buck” said Steve, slowly, taking his hands. “It’s snowing”. Bucky looked up in surprise, cheeks immediately dappled with a few snowflakes. The sky was almost mesmeric as the snow thickened, an endless inky blue flecked with white. He wondered how far it went.
Steve laughed, pulling Bucky close beside him as he tilted his head back, sticking out his tongue to catch the snow there. Bucky smiled, trying to unclench his shoulders. Steve was safe.
He reached out, tugging Steve’s scarf a little higher up on his neck. The gesture was strangely familiar, and Bucky’s heart ached for a second, for all those nights he went cold.
Steve was looking back at him, hair dusted with snowflakes while others quickly melted on his face, eyes so reassuringly bright and alive that Bucky couldn’t help but squeeze his hands a little tighter. Holding onto the memory, before it slipped away.
The Soldier hadn’t liked the snow. It wasn’t permitted to dislike, of course, assets didn’t feel, but the seeping red against a shock of white had always unnerved him. Set its teeth on edge.
Snow had been a scary thing too, when they were young. With the snow came the vicious winds, and biting cold, and for Steve, with his lungs and susceptibility to catch a chill, it meant illness. Long nights kept awake, wracked with coughs and gasps for breath that made Bucky’s heart stutter.
Hearing his laughter now, buttoned up in a thick warm coat and the serum having taken good care of the pneumonia, Bucky wondered if perhaps change could be a good thing. Of course it could be, if it made Steve smile.
“Happy Hanukkah, Buck” said Steve, eyes dancing. And Bucky smiled and hugged him and the laughter he let out when Steve buried his cold nose into his neck was real, it was all real; but he couldn’t help the pause that came over him at the reminder of the night.
Hanukkah meant family. Meant warmth, and friends and good fried food, but the light and the merriment that celebrated ancient miracles was so far from innocent blood seeping into the snow, that Bucky didn’t know if he could do it. If he was even capable of that joy again. How could he celebrate stubborn survival, and the banishment of enemies, when he hadn’t defeated his own?
Bucky walked in a daze behind Steve up into their shared flat, the latter still humming the song he’d begun in the marketplace. He carried out his usual routine, checking the doors and windows were securely fastened, and combing each room for any intruders. There was nothing amiss, though Bucky couldn’t seem to shake his unease, there being nothing tangible to focus his frustration on.
By the time he’d hung up his coat and returned to the sitting room, fingers twisting in the sleeves of his jumper, Steve had set the small hanukkiah they’d bought the week before on the window sill, candles and a matchbox waiting beside it.
Steve himself was standing by the table, and he grinned when he saw Bucky, flipping up the lid of their shared laptop to reveal a video of a family on the screen, gathered around their hanukkiah.
“I wasn’t sure if you’d want to have the blessings” Steve explained hesitantly, “but I’ve checked, and these are the right ones for the first night”. He looked a little unsure, and Bucky nodded quickly to reassure him, despite the trepidation coiling in his gut.
“Thank you” he said quietly, as Steve hit the play button, because he’d tried so hard to make their own little Hanukkah special, and Bucky was messing it all up. He always messed everything up with Steve.
The first blessing issued from the speakers, the voices of the onscreen family slightly tinny. Steve handed him the matchbox, and he took it numbly, gaze lingering on the screen for a little longer. The family that sang there looked cosy, all smiles and excitement for the holiday as they lit the first candle.
Bucky’s own family hadn’t looked too dissimilar once, he suspected. It seemed eons ago now, that he’d last hugged his ma. Picked his little sisters up from school. The world had changed so much, wars had been fought and won, those around him had moved on to whatever came after, but people still sang the same songs, still held each other close and greeted the holidays with the same cheer.
It should have been a comforting thought, and in some ways, it was. His people were still there, still singing. But Bucky felt so detached, disconnected from it all.
He felt himself slipping further into his thoughts, but it was so lonely deep down in his head. There was a hand on his flesh arm, reassuring, present, and it gave Bucky the strength to strike the match, touching it to the shamash candle. He watched the wick catch alight, and touched it to the lone candle waiting in the hanukkiah, soon realising with a distant awareness that the flame was nearing his metal fingertips, the heat sensors pulsing. The match was taken away.
“A bit different to last time, right?” said Steve gently, his arm curling around Bucky’s waist. He nodded stiffly, biting the inside of his cheek in an effort to compose himself. “Hey” said Steve, tilting his head to rest against Bucky’s. “Do you want some alone time?”.
That was something he could choose now, if he wanted. Alone didn’t mean locked in a cell, where he fell so far into his own thoughts he had to be shocked out of them, but simply time to himself. Where he could be safe and quiet for however long he wanted. But Bucky shook his head, tucking his chin down and curling in towards Steve.
“You” he muttered, squeezing his eyes shut against the tears, blurring the candlelight. He didn’t want to be alone, not that night. Steve opened his arms, wrapping Bucky up safe within, as natural now as it had been seventy years ago. They stayed like that for a while, Bucky’s face pressed against the soft wool of Steve’s jumper, watching the candles burning low.
The wind changed direction outside, and a flurry of snow splattered against the glass, sliding down to rest upon the window panes, fluffy and white. Bucky sniffed quietly, and Steve dropped a kiss to the top of his head.
“You want to beat me at dreidel?” he offered, giving Bucky an encouraging squeeze. He looked over, to where the dreidel and gelt had been lovingly set out on the table, a plate beside them for snacks.
A memory swam to the forefront of his mind, hazy at first, but then clear as day. Bucky huffed out a breath of laughter through his nose, which soon turned into a snort, setting Steve off chuckling too, a bemused expression on his face. “What?” he asked, “are my dreidel skills that hilarious?”.
“Remember when Becca was hiding the gelt, and my ma blamed you for it?”. Steve laughed, squeezing him tight, like he didn’t think Bucky could break at any moment. Bucky loved him for it.
“I do. She always did think I was a bad influence”.
“Wonder why that was” Bucky teased, grinning wetly, holding the image of his little sister’s gap-toothed grin as she revealed stashed in her pockets safe in his mind.
“I can’t think” said Steve innocently, as if he hadn’t dragged them into one scrape or another almost every time they went out to play.
“Punk” said Bucky, tucking himself more securely into Steve’s side. The candles were burning low, misting up the glass, and the snow continued to fall thick and blurry outside. It was okay to miss his family, and the world he’d left behind. Loss was more palpable when everyone seemed to be celebrating, after all. But Bucky was warm, and safe, and for the first time in seventy years, wrapped in Steve’s arms, he felt like he was home.
Hanukkah wasn’t like it was before, and it couldn’t be again, but maybe, with Steve, that was starting to be okay.