Fourteen days. That had been how long it had been since Steve had last seen Bucky. That had been how long it had been since Steve had used the cosmic cube to bring back his memories before he’d shattered the cube and disappeared, with tears streaming down his cheeks. The look of pure anguish on Bucky’s familiar face had shattered Steve in a way that not even reading through the Winter Soldier’s files had managed. It haunted his dreams, kept him up in the early hours before dawn, occupied his every waking thought, made it difficult to do much else besides think and think and think.
Fourteen days. That was two weeks. An entire fortnight. And yet, in many ways it felt both like yesterday and an eternity ago. It was a nightmare. It was a dream come true. It was the worst day of his life. It was everything he’d always hoped for. Steve didn’t know how to feel anymore. The conflicting emotions left him far too overwhelmed. So he stopped feeling. He let himself settle into a numb, detached state that left him a wraith-like shell of himself.
So long as he wasn’t feeling, wasn’t dwelling, he could focus. He could pour his time and energy into looking, searching, bringing Bucky back home.
“Hey,” said Sharon, drawing Steve out of his musings. It was dark save for the light of the city streaming in through the windows at his back, but it was more than enough for his enhanced eyes to see by. “It’s late. You should try and get to sleep.”
“That’s alright,” said Steve, not bothering to look up from the coffee table. “You should head to bed. I’ll be there in a bit.”
“A bit for you means another three hours at the least,” said Sharon, walking into the room. He could hear the swish of her nightgown as she padded towards the couch. She leaned over the table, and Steve could practically feel the shift in the air when she parsed out exactly what he was looking at.
“Steve…” said Sharon, wearily. “You can’t keep doing this to yourself.”
“I keep thinking that if I read these again, that maybe somewhere I’ll find something I missed. Some name or date or clue. Something that will tell me where to find him,” Steve admitted.
Spread out upon the coffee table were copies of the Winter Soldier files, highlighted and annotated and bookmarked and organized. He had gone through them again and again, perused them with a fine-toothed comb. And yet…
“Steve,” said Sharon, laying a hand on his shoulder. “You need to let these go.”
“But what if I missed something? What if it’s all right there and I just-“
“Steve,” Sharon repeated, moving in front of him to block his view of the documents, and settling her hands on his chin, lifting his face to meet her eyes. “You have read and reread these files more times than I can count. You probably could recite them from memory even after the first time you went through them, but you still continue to do it. This isn’t research anymore, Steve, it’s self-torture.”
She was right. Steve knew she was right. And yet he just couldn’t get himself to stop.
“I know you think you deserve this pain,” said Sharon. “I know you think that by doing this you’ll somehow be able to shoulder some of the burden of the horrors that Bucky has been through over the years, because you feel guilty that you were living your life free while he was a prisoner in his own mind. But you remember him best, don’t you? Would the Bucky of the past, the one you lost all those years ago, would he want you to sit here and torture yourself and wallow in guilt, or would he want you to move on and live your life even if it’s without him?”
Steve knew the answer and it twisted his heart. Everything Sharon was saying was true. She hadn’t even known Bucky, but she knew Steve, knew of his dead partner and best friend through the stories he’d told. And if there was anything the both of them knew with certainty, it was that the Bucky of the past would be utterly incensed to see Steve behaving the way he was.
“I’ll help you the best I can to find him,” said Sharon. “You’re not alone in this, Steve. I’m with you, you know that.”
Steve closed his eyes and leaned forward, resting his forehead against her abdomen as Sharon began to run soft finger through his hair.
“I do,” he said at last. “Thank you.”
Sharon’s hands stilled for a moment, before she rested a palm against the back of his head.
“Come to bed with me.”
And if the files were no longer there when Steve woke up the next morning, then perhaps it was just a step in the right direction.