"Steve, we should slow down," Sam says. "What good do we do Barnes if we die from exhaustion or get caught 'cause we're too tired to notice the trap?"
“And what happens if he dies because no one’s watchin’ his back?” Steve demands in turn.
And then, of course, they find Barnes’ body. He lost too much blood, as best Sam can determine. Lost too much too fast to replace, and his serum wasn’t as good as Steve’s.
He’s surrounded by bodies, and he looks so fucking young.
“Bucky,” Steve says. “Bucky, wake up.” He kneels down in the pool of dried blood; it’s been at least three days. “C’mon, Buck.” Steve reaches out to shake him. “Bucky, wake up.”
Oh, fuck, Sam thinks, watching Steve’s mind and heart break at the exact same moment.
Steve Rogers has gone on multiple suicide missions for Bucky Barnes and (somehow) survived every one of them.
Steve Rogers has been told Bucky Barnes died multiple times and proven it wrong.
There is no world Steve Rogers wants to live in if Bucky Barnes isn’t there, too.
Hydra is the reason Bucky Barnes died three times.
Steve buries Bucky beneath a full moon and tells Sam, “You should go home.”
“I ain’t leavin’ you out here alone, Steve,” Sam says, shaking his head. “Not a chance in hell.”
“It is hell,” Steve says, patting the newly-turned earth.
There is no world without Bucky Barnes. Steve followed orders once and it let Hydra get their hands on Bucky for the second time. It let them murder him and put an obedient weapon into his body.
When Natasha and Fury and Stark and anyone at all calls, Steve doesn’t pick up. Sam does, and he has muttered conversation Steve hears but ignores.
This isn’t a suicide mission. Steve doesn’t plan on dying anytime soon. Not while any piece of Hydra is still somewhere in the world.
“Steve,” Sam says cautiously. “Steve, look at me.”
He doesn’t recognize Steve anymore. Steve’s crusade – civilians have gotten caught up in, non-combatants, people who haven’t been Hydra in fifty years have been executed in their beds.
“Steve, I can’t be a part of this any longer.” Fury’s told Sam to bring Steve in, that he needs to be controlled, contained. They’ve made the news in every country in the world because Steve has rooted Hydra out everywhere.
Sam won’t bring him in because he understands but he can’t –
“Steve, I’m going home,” he says. It’s been a year since Steve buried Barnes. Sam had hoped… but his friend died with Barnes and he sees that now.
“Be happy, Sam,” Steve says, glancing at him for just a moment before looking back down at the bloodstained file eighteen civilians died for Steve to get.
The new World Security Council tries to send the Avengers after the rogue Captain America. All of them refuse.
It starts with Hydra. But Hydra’s got tendrils everywhere. He follows the threads, severing and burning, and letting the bodies lay where they fall.
The war will never be over. And he knows he’ll never see Bucky again because Bucky has to be in Heaven. He was too good not to make it there. And Steve’s sins are immeasurable now, rivers of blood flowing from his hands that he doesn't feel an ounce of regret for –
They’ve been dead since Bucky bled out alone. He just needed time to find them.
Steve swings the shield onto his back, holsters his gun, and kneels down next to one of AIM’s scientists. “Hi,” he says. “I’m Steve Rogers.”
“Please don’t kill me,” she cries. She’s the only other person alive in the room.
“I’m going to kill you,” he says. “But it’s up to you how painless it is.”
There is no world worth living in if Bucky’s not there. And all Steve can do is kill anyone who might’ve ever caused Bucky harm.
He knows there’s no end to this. It’s his punishment for letting Bucky fall alone.
Bucky Barnes’ name is on eighteen different memorials. The Winter Soldier is never identified, though it is noted that he did not survive the battle to stop Project Insight’s completion.
In every country in the world, the public is informed that Steve Rogers is a fugitive and that if he is seen, do not approach. Contact the authorities.
“This is a goddamned shitshow,” Nick mutters, head in his hands. “Fuck.”
Things would’ve been better if Barnes had just died in the mountains. They could’ve dealt with a depressed and grieving Captain America – they had been dealing with it. But a fucking omnicidal Captain America who believes everyone should be punished for Barnes’ death… fuck, no one saw that coming.
“Do we know where he is now?” he asks Coulson.
“No,” Coulson sighs. “He was last sighted in Mumbai; corroboration came when a factory caught fire. Thirteen casualties.”
“Shit,” Nick mutters. Why couldn’t Barnes have just died in the mountains?