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Dear Steve

Chapter Text

Dear Steve,

I've been staring at this blank sheet of paper for the last half an hour, and I still have no idea what to write.

I feel sick, like my guts are actually going to end up on the floor. My head feels like it's about to burst. Nothing feels real. I'm looking around, right now, at this Army tent, and it feels fake, like an impostor. It can't be real, because if it is, then everything else that's happened in the last 24 hours is real, and I don't want to believe that.

Earlier today, Colonel Phillips told me and the rest of the guys what you did.

He used words like "hero" and "honorable sacrifice". He said you saved millions of lives and that we should all be proud of you – but I'm not. I know it's selfish, but I wish you hadn't chosen to be a hero – not this time, not when the cost of it was your life.

How could you do something so stupid? Why did you board the Valkyrie? Why did you crash that plane?

The logical part of me knows the answers to those questions – Colonel Phillips told us. I know that in order to stop those bombs from killing civilians, you had to put the plane down somewhere far from civilization. You went down in the Arctic because it was the best of a bunch of shitty, awful options. You gave your life to save millions – and man, I know I should be so proud of you for making that choice, but fuck, I'd rather have you here with me.

I keep thinking about last night. You fell asleep right after we made love, but I didn't. I stayed awake for a while, just watching you. That makes me sound like a creep, but I couldn't help it. You looked so gorgeous sleeping, so peaceful. We're surrounded by the Swiss Alps, but they've got nothing on you. You're the most beautiful thing around here for miles around.

Or you were.

I keep slipping up and using the present tense. I don't mean to; I just can't get my head around the fact that you're gone. I don't want to admit it. I can't. I can't imagine living in a world without you in it. How can the sun keep rising and setting when you're not here? How can people carry on? There are people in the world who never knew you, and I don't know how they can bear it – not having talked to you, not having seen you, not having known you.

But I'm one of those people, now. I'll never see you again. We'll never have another conversation. I'll never get to listen to you tell another dumb story or try to sing even though you're tone deaf. I'll never get to touch you again. I'll never get to taste you again. Just looking at those words on the paper feels surreal. It feels wrong. I feel like at any moment someone's going to pull back a curtain and you'll be there with your big goofy grin yelling "surprise!" Because this can't be real – it can't.

Peggy says that I'm in denial. Of course I'm in denial. We've been best friends for what feels like forever. I've known you my entire life. I cannot believe you're gone. You can't be gone. Please, Steve, don't be gone.

Peggy says that I should allow you the dignity of your choice. I understand what she means. I understand why you put the Valkyrie down in the Arctic, too. It was your life or the lives of millions – and I know you. You’d always be the first to sacrifice yourself for the greater good, because that's just the kind of person you are. It's one of the things I loved about you the most. But God, just for once, I wish you hadn't jumped in and been the hero.

I know what you did was heroic. I know it was the right thing to do. But fuck, it’s agony. No one ever said that it could hurt this much to lose someone. I feel like I'm falling apart. I don't know how to cope. My throat and nose are sore from crying, my chest aches and my heart is completely broken. It's like you were inside me and now you've been ripped out and I'm bleeding.

I can't stop thinking about what it must have been like for you, going down in the Valkyrie. It goes around like a loop inside my head. Did you keep your eyes open? Were you alive at the moment of impact? What were your last words? Did it hurt or was it an instant death? I pray that it was instant. The thought of you being in pain is unbearable.

I hope you're with your parents now. I hope that Heaven exists and that you're up there, because the alternative – that you're just nothing – is unthinkable.

The other Howling Commandos have come to visit me in my tent. Dum Dum and Jim are as shocked and in denial as I am. Jacques was crying, which is something I've never seen him do before. Gabe and James just... didn't say anything. With James, maybe it's a British stiff upper lip thing, but Gabe – I'm worried about him. He looks like he's hurting real bad.

Jacques said that they're all here for me, if I want to talk with them about anything. It's kind of them, but I can't. I can't tell them about us. They think we were just friends. I don't know what they'd think if they knew we were more than that.

I keep thinking about this morning. When we had breakfast, we didn't really talk about much; just ate our porridge and then went to join the others to talk about the mission to storm Schmidt's base. I wish we'd talked. I don't care what about. Just something meaningful. I can't remember what our last words to each other were, and it's eating me up inside. I wish I could remember. I'm terrified of forgetting a single thing about you.

I wish I could travel back in time to this morning and stop you from ever boarding Schmidt's Valkyrie. I wish we never went on the mission. We could have found another way to stop Schmidt's bombs. We could have found another way to beat HYDRA. And then you'd be here with me now, lying in bed with me, rather than me sitting here alone, writing you this stupid letter.

Maybe I'll wake up tomorrow and this will all have been an awful dream. Maybe I'll wake up and you'll be here, warm and sleeping and beautiful in my arms.

Or maybe I won't wake up, and I'll join you in Heaven.

Either way, I pray to God I will see you in the morning.

Yours,

Bucky

Chapter Text

Dear Steve,

Today is your 27th birthday.

It's the first birthday without you, and it doesn't feel real.

We celebrated it – Peggy, the Howling Commandos and I. We cracked open a bottle of whiskey and had dinner together; spent all evening talking about you and sharing all our favorite memories.

I thought I'd known everything about you, but this evening I heard so many stories that I'd never heard before, and it was wonderful. It felt as though you were right there with us in the room, re-living all these moments from your life. Just for this evening, it felt as though you were alive again, right there but hiding just out of sight, and it was glorious.

Peggy told us about her memories of you when you first went to Camp Lehigh. You were the smallest, weakest and sickest of all the new recruits. You could barely do a push up and almost died of an asthma attack going around the assault course. Colonel Phillips was hopping mad that you were even there at all, but Peggy saw something different in you.

She saw through the skinny packaging and looked into your soul. She saw the real you – the one that's brave and selfless and always willing to do the right thing. She saw that you were a good person. She saw that you had the potential to be a better soldier, a better man, than any of those beefcakes in your class who had all the muscle but zero brains or humility.

I was never really that close to Peggy before, but now I see her in a whole new light. I have a newfound respect for her. It's rare to find someone like her – who saw how fantastic you were even before the serum. She said that you were a hero even when you were ninety pounds soaking wet and skinny as a rake. A hero is in the size of a person's heart, not in the size of their muscles, she said – and I agree with her 100%.

Because you were always a hero to me, Steve. Always.

I think back to all the times I teased you for being so skinny and sickly, and it makes me feel horrible. You knew I was only kidding, right? It was always an unsaid thing between us – my respect for you – but now I wish I had said it out loud more often. I want to shout it from the rooftops: that Steve Rogers is a hero, that he is and always was, for years before he was Captain America. The little guy from Brooklyn who was too dumb not to run away from a fight – he is a hero, an inspiration.

Peggy said that when Colonel Phillips threw a dummy grenade into your class of recruits, you jumped on it. I laughed, because that is just so you. Of course it would be you. Throw a grenade in any universe, in any time, and you will always be the one to throw yourself on it to save others.

She told us another story too, about the time your class went on a run. You reached a flagpole, and Colonel Phillips said that if one of you managed to get the flag and bring it to him, they'd be allowed to ride the rest of the way in the car with him and Peggy. The other guys tried to climb the flagpole, and they all failed. But you, you waited patiently and then dismantled the flagpole. You got the flag and the free ride. Peggy says that's the moment she realized you were something special. Even just writing about this makes me feel so proud of you, Steve. You were brilliant.

Not all the stories were serious. Some were silly. Dum Dum told us about the time you accidentally dropped Monty's jacket in a pile of manure. Apparently, you spent the next two hours cleaning it so that it didn't stink of shit anymore. Jesus, I wish I'd been there to witness it; I'd have laughed until my sides burst. All of us were laughing at Dum Dum's story, and then, all of a sudden, we all just... stopped. I don't know what caused us all to remember at the same time that you were gone, but we did. We could feel your absence – in the spaces between sentences, in the gaps between each breath.

The one thing that really surprised me was your secret language-learning. Jacques told us that when you guys were alone, you'd speak French together. Why didn't you tell me? I didn't know you were learning French. When we asked Jacques about it, he said that you'd asked him to keep it quiet, because you didn't want anyone making a fuss over you. Did I tell you that you were a genius? Did I tell you enough times, when you were here, just how much I admired your intelligence?

Gabe still won't talk. Sometimes, at night, I hear him yelling in his sleep. During the day, though, he doesn't say a word.

So, that was your birthday. We honored you. We remembered you. And it still feels wrong to use those words to describe thinking about you. The others all say you're dead – but I still can't believe you're gone. It doesn't feel like you're dead. It feels like you're still out there, somewhere, alive. I believe that right this moment you're out there, maybe hiking across the ice towards civilisation.

All your life has been one big miracle. All the doctors said you wouldn't even make it through your teens, but you survived all the way to adulthood. You received the serum and became a super-soldier. And even after all that, you never let fame or fortune turn your head. You were always just... Steve.

Please, perform one last miracle for me: be alive.

I want to see your face again. I want to hear you laugh. I want to talk to you and hear your thoughts. I want to touch you and smell you and hold you close. I even miss your singing and the way you made all the notes sound the same.

I keep expecting to see you. I hear someone walking up to me from behind and I'm convinced it's you. I see someone with blonde hair in a crowd and I run over to them. I hear someone singing out of tune and I get butterflies. I want it to be you, always, but it never is.

Every morning, I wake up and I hope that you'll be lying next to me.

Every morning is a disappointment.

Yours,

Bucky

Chapter Text

Dear Steve,

The war is finally over.

The Germans surrendered months ago, when Hitler killed himself in his bunker like the coward he was. The Japanese kept fighting. Last month, we dropped atomic bombs on two of their cities: Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I'd never heard of atomic bombs before, but apparently, they work by splitting an atom or some other Devil's work. I've seen pictures of the aftermath and... I can barely describe it. It looks like Hell on Earth. The cities were completely destroyed, and the people, if they didn't die in the initial blast, apparently started to fall sick. Those poor, poor people. Today, the Japanese military finally surrendered.

At last, the world is no longer at war.

I hesitate to call it peace. Peace suggests some kind of happy ending, or some victorious winner, and this is not that.

This ending is not happy. Millions of people were murdered – Jews, Gypsies, the disabled and many more who the Nazis deemed “undesirable”. They even killed gays: people like you and me. Countless men and women were killed in the fighting, and those ordinary Germans who stood by and let it happen must now surely be waking up and feeling horror. There were deaths and casualties on all sides, and every single victim has an entire circle of loved ones who are now grieving for them. This is pain layered upon pain. This is not a happy ending.

As for winners – yes, we won, but it doesn't feel victorious. How can we celebrate, when those innocent people who were murdered remain dead? How can we rejoice our victory, when we lost people of our own – people like you – in the process? There is no joy here. There is tiredness and grief and a weary relief that it is over – but that isn’t joy. This is not what winning feels like.

Sometimes I look at photographs from celebration rallies and there are people dancing and cheering in the streets. I wonder how they can bear it – how they can possibly smile after all of this – and I can only conclude that either they never personally saw the horror of war, or they are faking it.

Maybe everyone is wearing a mask and no one is really able to cope. Maybe everyone feels the way I feel but they just don't show it. I do that too, I guess. I never let on to the others how I feel – how much I miss you being here.

I still refuse to call you dead. I do not believe you are dead. You are missing. Maybe you are still hiking across the ice. Maybe you found some pretty guy or girl to settle down with and decided to have a quiet life. Maybe you have amnesia and that's why you've not made contact. Just because we don’t know where you are, it does not mean that you are dead. You are out there somewhere; I can feel it. I only hope that, wherever you are, you are happy.

I know how relieved you must be to hear that the war is finally over. You are a fantastic soldier, but you are, above all, a man of peace. Some people might think that that's paradoxical – but those people don’t understand. Sometimes, the soldiers who fight the hardest are doing so because they are the ones most desperate for it to end.

Now that the war is fought and won, I hope you feel some level of happiness, or at least closure. Where are you, I wonder? What are you doing? Do you ever think of me?

Lately, you have been all I can think about. Do you remember that we made all sorts of promises to one another – about what we would do once the war was over?

We always said that when we went home to America, we would buy a house together. We would live together, and it would be home. To the rest of the world, we would just be two friends. But inside our own four walls, we would be able to be our true selves.

It would be our den, our nest, our safe place. It would be a place where we could do whatever we wanted: read, paint, laze around, make love. Neither of us are particularly rich, so we wouldn't be able to afford anything too fancy, but we both agreed that that didn't matter. Wherever we lived, whatever condition the house was in, it would be perfect – because it would be ours.

You see, home was never a place, for me. It was never an address, or a physical building with four walls and a roof. For me, home was always with you. Being by your side – wherever we were and whatever we were doing – that's what home means to me.

Your being so far away, not even knowing where you are – it makes me feel homeless. I remember getting lost in the Alps months ago, and it was terrifying, but it had nothing on this. Right now, not knowing where you are, I feel more lost than any other time I can remember.

Please come back, Steve. Come back to New York, and we can buy a house together like we always promised.

There is no home without you.

Come back.

Yours,

Bucky

Chapter Text

Dear Steve,

It's been one year since you crashed the Valkyrie.

You've been missing for one year, but you're still as fresh in my mind now as you were 365 days ago.

We haven't given up on you. Me, Peggy, the Howling Commandos and Howard Stark – we're all still searching for you. Howard thinks he's pinpointed the rough area where you must have gone down. It's an area of the Arctic, near Greenland. Every day, we cover another small section of sea and ice in this boat that the Army has loaned to us. We use scanning equipment to look for the Valkyrie on the seabed.

The others are looking for your corpse, but I'm not. They think the Valkyrie is your final resting place, but I'm on this mission to look for clues about where you may be today. If we find the plane, I bet my life that we'll find it empty. I bet we'll find a message from you scrawled on the side, telling us that you survived and where you plan on going next. Monty calls it desperation, but I call it intuition. It doesn’t feel like you're gone. I can still feel your heartbeat, somewhere out there. I can feel it in my soul.

Whenever we return to Greenland, I always make a point of going out and talking to as many locals as I can. I carry around a photograph of you, always, and I ask strangers if they have seen you. Last week, I even saw a man who looked just like you from behind – broad-shouldered, blonde haired, pale skinned. He was even wearing that old grey coat you loved so much. I ran up to him but, of course, he wasn't you.

When I got back to my cabin on the boat, I cried for almost an hour. I got so caught up in thinking about you, in trying to remember every detail about you, that I completely missed dinner. Instead, I closed my eyes and remembered you – your voice, your laugh, your freckles. I remembered the way you felt in my hands. I lay in bed for so long that I lost track of time, just thinking about you.

Peggy came and visited me, hours later, and brought me some warmed-up food. Peggy has been my rock over this last year. She's one of the smartest, funniest, most strong-willed women I've ever met. Over the last year, she's gone from being a colleague to being one of my best friends. She's the one who convinced Colonel Phillips into lending us this boat.

Peggy and I spend a lot of our free time in one another's company – reading, exchanging stories, or just talking about you. Every time we talk about you, we learn something new, and it's wonderful to learn all these amazing things about you, even now when you're missing and silent.

I've learned a lot, too, about the area where she grew up in England. She was born in Hampstead, London, but she grew up in the Berkshire countryside, all patchwork fields and rolling green hills and clean fresh air. I told her it sounds perfect – I know you'd have loved to have visited somewhere like that, at least. I remember when we were growing up, and New York's pollution was always triggering your asthma attacks. You used to dream about clean air and wide-open fields. I wonder if you are somewhere unpolluted now.

Peggy thinks you're dead. She thinks it's only a matter of time until we find the Valkyrie on the seabed, with you inside. She has come to terms with your "death". She says that you died a hero, and that the whole world is going to remember you for a very long time. She tells me, gently, that I need to let you go, but I can't. I can't give up hope that you might be alive. I can't stop looking for you, because what if you're out there, lost and looking for me? I can't give up on you.

I am terrified of forgetting you. I live in fear of the day when I wake up and your face is no longer the first thing I see. I dread the day when I can no longer remember the exact pitch of your voice, or the softness of your hair, or the way your freckles fanned across your cheeks like a constellation. I don't ever want to forget the exact shade of blue of your eyes, or the texture of your hands, or the way you breathed when you slept – but one day, I will, and that terrifies me.

I don't want to forget a single thing about you. I don't want my feelings for you to wane. I don't want my memories of you to fade with time. Because being with you was perfect. Knowing you has always been the best part of my life.

I regret that we never said "I love you" to one another. What we had was always this unspoken thing between us, but I know now that it was love. When I remember being with you, I feel this thing in my chest, and it's love. So many people go their entire lives without ever feeling anything like this, and it makes me feel immensely privileged that we managed to share those few years that we had, loving one another, even if it was in secret.

I just wish we had said those words to one another. I wish we hadn't just tried to pass it off as sex, as friends who slept together, as fuck buddies. We were so afraid of other people finding out about us that we hid our feelings even from ourselves. We were afraid to admit we were in love, and it's that that I regret more than anything else.

If we ever meet again – if you come back and make contact – then I promise you I'll tell you just how special you are to me, just how much I love you.

I love you, Steve, now and forever.

Yours,

Bucky

Chapter Text

Dear Steve,

I don't know why I keep writing to you.

It's been four years since you went missing, and I finally accept that you're dead.

Please know that I held onto hope for as long as I could. I searched for you on land and on the seabed, for four whole years. I looked for you in Greenland, in Iceland, in Norway, in Sweden. I went to Canada and traveled all along the Canadian and US east coast with your photograph. No one had seen you, although everyone recognized you. People said you were a hero, and that they were sorry for my loss, but they don't understand, not really. No one will ever understand what we had together – those too few years with all that love.

Colonel Phillips lent us the boat for as long as he could, but the US Army eventually wanted it back. We must have scoured every inch of the seabed with that thing, but we couldn't find the Valkyrie anywhere, not even fragments of it.

Howard thinks that the bombs in the plane’s hull must have detonated when it crashed and blown the aircraft to smithereens.

Peggy thinks that it's probably buried by snow and ice.

I don't know what to think. All I know is that you're gone, and you're not coming back. It broke my heart, to finally let you go. I wasn't ready to say goodbye, because we never got that – we never got to say goodbye to one another in real life. I probably will never fully come to terms with your death, but I could no longer go on clinging on to futile hope. I just couldn’t do it anymore. I’m sorry.

Please understand that this wasn’t easy for me, and it is in no way an insult to your memory. Letting you go does not mean I stopped loving you – I could never stop loving you. Letting you go was necessary, but it was the hardest thing I've ever done.

Holding on to hope just became too painful, too exhausting. Every day, I would go out and search for you, and every night, I would go to bed in tears of disappointment. Every day that we didn't find you, it felt like I was losing you all over again. I grieved for you afresh, for day after day. For four years, I got up every morning, and searched for you, and broke my heart, then got up the next morning to repeat the same routine.

It took me four years, but I finally realized that you are dead. There's no way that you would leave me like this, if you were alive. You wouldn't do this to me. You would never put me through agony like that. It broke my heart, but I realized that the only explanation left to me was the one that everyone else had been saying from the beginning – that you were dead, that you died with the Valkyrie, somewhere off the coast of Greenland.

I'm so proud of you, Steve. You died a hero's death. I have your photograph – the one that I showed people across so many different countries for four years – framed by my bedside. You're the first thing I see every morning, and I feel so damn proud of you every time I see your face. You saved millions of lives. You were good and brave and heroic – and the whole world knows it. I promise you: I won't ever let them forget.

It's important to me that you understand that: I'll never forget you. Accepting your death does not mean I am turning my back on your memory or relegating you to some less important part of my mind. You are still with me, always. The world is changing, but you will always be a part of me.

Today, the world changed in quite a big way. The North Atlantic Treaty was signed by twelve countries, including the US. It's a treaty that's meant to ensure peace. It's meant to ensure that something like World War II can never happen again. I know you'd have been thrilled about it. You fought so that ultimately, we could live in a world of peace.

Here's hoping that the treaty works. Wouldn't it be wonderful if our generation were the last to ever have to experience the horror of war? I dream of a future where the only times children have to read about war are in the history books, not the newspapers.

I have another piece of news.

Peggy and I have started dating. I admit, when she asked me out six months ago, I panicked. I said yes out of fear – because I didn't want to raise anyone's suspicions that I was gay. Over the last few months though, my feelings have changed. I've grown more and more attached to Peggy. I think I might be starting to love her. She was already one of my best friends, and this feels like a natural extension of that.

She is not replacing you. No one could ever replace you. What you and I had was special. Being with you will always be something that I will hold dear to me. My memories of being with you will not become less important just because I am forming new ones with Peggy. You are, each of you, different. You are important to me in different ways. I love you in different ways.

Peggy and I held a little funeral service for you, yesterday. It wasn’t anything official, but it was something that I needed to do. We went to the beach and wrote your name in the sand. The sun was setting, and the orange sunlight on the New York City water was beautiful as the waves lapped on the beach.

We spoke to you – did you hear us? Do you ever look down on us, from Heaven, to see what we're up to?

We told you how much we miss you, and we shared our favorite memories of you.

Peggy talked about the time you jumped on that grenade in Camp Lehigh. She never tires of telling that story. She has a huge amount of respect for your bravery, both before and after you had the serum, and that is one of the things I love most about her: that she saw the real you, even when you were small and sickly.

My favorite memory of you was from when we were teenagers. I talked about the time you and I went to that summer camp in the country. It was meant to be for children with asthma only, but I snuck on the bus and by the time anyone realized I wasn't supposed to be there, it was too late to turn back. We spent all summer sharing a bunk in that cabin by the lake.

I think that was when I first started falling in love with you. I remember watching your face while you were sleeping, in the early mornings. The morning light was beautiful there, all clean and clear and free of pollution. You looked like an angel – maybe it was prophecy. I remember wishing I were a painter, so that I could capture just how gorgeous you looked on those mornings.

I didn't tell Peggy those parts of the story, of course, but I think she could tell nonetheless that the memory was special. Peggy and I spent an hour on the beach. We watched the tide come in as it washed away your name in the sand. It felt strange, as if you were finally fading out of view as the waves obscured your name. It felt like an ending.

Afterwards, Peggy and I went back to my place. We made love for the first time. Is that a weird thing to tell you? It's no weirder than writing to you, I guess, but still, I hope it doesn't upset you. Making love to Peggy wasn't like making love to you. She was soft and curved whereas you were hard and all jutting lines. She was beautiful, in an altogether different way to you.

Afterwards, after she fell asleep, I didn't look at her – I looked at the photo of you beside my bed. I looked at your face and tried to imagine that the warm weight next to me on the bed was you. It worked. I feel terribly guilty about it, because Peggy deserves better than that. But it also made me feel more alive than any other time since you died. Because, for a few minutes, it was like having you back with me.

Yours,

Bucky

Chapter Text

Dear Steve,

Today is New Year's Day.

It's a new year, a new start, and I have so much to tell you.

Today, Peggy and I got married.

I love her. It's a different kind of love to the one we had together, but it's love nonetheless. She is intelligent, warm, kind and witty. She is my best friend, and I cannot think of any other living soul I would rather spend the rest of my life with. I want to make her happy. I want to take care of her and support her in her endeavors. I want her and I to be a team for as long as we both shall live.

Today, I promised Peggy that I would love her, comfort her, honor and protect her. Today was the first day of the rest of our lives, and it was beautiful. We had a small, Church wedding. Her parents came all the way from England, and my sisters were her bridesmaids. You should have seen her. She chose not to wear the traditional white wedding gown. Instead, she wore her ceremonial Army uniform. She looked magnificent: strong and brave and badass and just Peggy. As I watched her walk down the aisle, I was so proud of her that I thought my heart was going to burst.

We are going to try to have a family. We would love to have children. Peggy would like to have a boy and a girl. I don't care much about their gender, so long as they're healthy. I know Peggy will be a fantastic mother, and I'll try my best to be a good father. When they're born, we're going to tell them all about their Uncle Steve. They'll know all about you – you'll be in their bedtime stories, every night, teaching them by example to be good and brave and kind. If we have a boy, we've already decided that we're going to name him Steven.

It's strange, to be progressing through life like this, without you by my side. When I was young, whenever I thought of the future, it always involved you. The details would change – the location, the profession, the dream – but you were always there; a constant. Not having you here feels odd. A sad, sentimental part of me feels like our story was never supposed to be like this. It feels like someone picked up the wrong book and now they're reading out all the wrong words. 

I would have loved for you to have been here, today. You would have been great as my best man. In some other story, maybe you could even have been my groom. I feel guilty for even thinking about it, but as I watched Peggy walking down the aisle, for a brief, fleeting second, I did wonder what it would have been like if it had been you instead.

I bet you would have looked absolutely stunning, all dressed up in your Army uniform. Your hair would have caught the sun coming in through the Church windows and looked like a halo. So many times, I have fantasized about slipping a gold wedding band around your finger and proclaiming our love to the world. What would we have called ourselves? Barnes-Rogers? Rogers-Barnes?

It's a pipe dream, I know; gay marriage will never be legalized. And you are dead. Still, it's something that I find myself thinking about a lot. Do you think we will ever see a time when love like ours will be tolerated, maybe even accepted or celebrated? I would like to think so – maybe in some distant, more enlightened future – but I know now the dangers of getting one's hopes up for impossible things. I spent four years of my life doing that, waiting for you after you went down with the Valkyrie, and it almost killed me.

Maybe it is time to stop dreaming. Maybe it is time to come back to reality. It is strange though – whenever I contemplate giving up on these fantasies of a gay-friendly future, I always find that that stubborn spark of hope refuses to die. It is a fairy-tale, but one that I am apparently not yet ready to give up on.

Still, now is no time to dwell on imagined futures. Now it is time to concentrate on the real future: my future with Peggy, my beautiful bride. I love her. She is my best friend. She is having a relaxing bath now, getting ready for our first night together as a married couple. I cannot wait to begin this new chapter of my life, with her by my side. It is a different story to the one I always thought I’d have with you when I was younger, but it’s a wonderful story nonetheless, and I would not change it. Peggy is incredible, and I am proud to have her as my wife, honored that she chose me to be her husband.

I have to go now, but I will try not to leave so long between letters next time.

Please know that I still think about you, fondly, every day.

Yours,

Bucky

Chapter Text

Dear Steve,

Peggy and I had a daughter.

We struggled to conceive and therefore we were so excited to finally meet her. She felt long overdue, the final missing piece to make our family whole. We loved her from the moment we discovered Peggy was pregnant. Peggy and I would talk to her bump constantly, telling her how much Mommy and Daddy loved her. Every night, Peggy would have a bath, and I would sit next to the bathtub and pour warm water on her belly, touching her bump and getting the most giddy thrill whenever we would feel her move inside Peggy. We prepared a nursery for her – I built a crib and Peggy painted a beautiful mural on her bedroom wall – all warm, soft colors of rolling English hills, so that she would know the other half of her heritage.

When Peggy went into labor, we rushed straight to the hospital. It was so busy, so hectic, but the overwhelming emotion that both Peggy and I felt was excitement to finally be meeting our child. We had had such trouble conceiving that the doctors had said we should give up trying, but then she came into existence – a missed period, some morning sickness, our little miracle. We were so excited to finally get to greet her as she came into the world.

I remember watching her being born. She was covered in blood and mucus, but she was so beautiful, so perfect. I reached out to touch her, when the doctors all began crowding around and talking in fast voices. I can't remember the exact moment that they told us what happened. I don't remember ever hearing the word stillborn. I must have repressed the memory. Peggy says that I let out the most terrible scream.

There is a blank space in my mind, in between seeing my beautiful daughter bursting from Peggy into the world, and several hours later. I remember we were given a private room. I remember the three of us huddled up in bed, our daughter lying between us both, Peggy and I holding her hands.

She was the most beautiful child, the most beautiful human being, I have ever seen in my life. She had soft, wispy blonde hair and gorgeous blue eyes. She had Peggy's nose and my lips. She had ten perfect little fingers and ten perfect toes. She had the tiniest nails you can imagine. We lay there for hours, holding her, kissing her, whispering to her how much we both loved her.

I realize now that I had never felt love until I met my daughter. What I felt for her outshines anything I have ever felt for anyone else: my family, Peggy, even you. I loved my daughter with every fibre of my being. I would have done anything for her. If I could have given my life so that she could have lived, I would have. She was my world, my biggest love, and she never even drew breath.

I am heartbroken. I grieve not only for the person she was, that tiny baby, but the person she should have been. She will never get to walk or say her first words. She will never go to school and come home with scraped knees and stories to tell us about her classmates. She will never get to grow up and become her own woman. She will never get to pursue her dreams, or fall in love, or get into fights, or any of those other things that make life worth living.

I grieve the fact that she will never be able to enjoy life. I grieve for the fact that she entered and left the world without making any impact, without causing any ripples to mark her presence. Actually, that is not entirely true: she had a huge impact on Peggy and I. We will never forget her. Our lives will now forever be split into two: before and after.

I cry for her at the most random times. Last week, I went to the store and was standing in the milk aisle and I began to cry. I remembered the way she smelled, that wonderful milky baby smell, and I thought my heart was going to tear in two right then and there. I had to run out of there, my basket dumped where I was standing, because suddenly all I could think about was her, and how she should have been at home, suckling at Peggy's breast, and not buried six feet underground.

We named her Stephanie. She's buried in the Cemetery of the Evergreens, with a tiny headstone that simply reads: Stephanie Barnes, 14 September 1955. Forever loved.

I go there every day and talk to her. I tell her that Mommy and Daddy love her very much, and I hope that somewhere, somehow, she understands.

Steve, are you with her now, in Heaven? Are you looking after her? Please, if you're up there, give her a big cuddle and a kiss from me. Tell her that when we meet again, when my time on Earth is up, that I'll make up for all the lost years.

I pray every day, not to God, but to Stephanie and you. You were, both of you, my loves.

Yours,

Bucky

Chapter Text

Dear Steve,

Today is a day of progress: the Civil Rights Act has been passed.

It bans, for the first time, discrimination based on race, color and sex. When I heard the news this morning, I called up Gabe and we both cried with joy. I remembered all the times he'd told me of his experiences as a black man; all the shit he'd gone through just because of the color of his skin. Today, he and I are equal in the eyes of the law. It's been such a long time coming, and it makes me feel ashamed that people like him have had to live as second-class citizens for so long. But progress is better late than never. Today is a new day in the history of America – a better day.

I wish you were here; you'd be so happy. You always stood up against bullying and prejudice. You could never abide when people were treated differently because of something as trivial as the color of their skin or the way they looked. It was one of the best things about you – your strong sense of fairness and equality.

In one of my first memories of you, you're fighting in the street outside your apartment block with a white boy who you had seen hitting a black girl. You were about six years old, and getting your ass handed to you by the other boy. But each time he knocked you down, you got right back up and kept on fighting. When your mom eventually heard the commotion, she had to physically drag you two apart.

When I met up with you later, I asked you why you had fought him. You simply said that you didn't like bullies. I said you could have run to get your mom, but you said that would have meant that the black girl would have had to wait for help, when you could jump in there right away. It was incomprehensible to you, to delay helping her. You could not bear the idea that she might be frightened or in pain for a second longer than was necessary. You were always on the side of good.

Today is a victory for all Americans. No matter the color of our skin or the countries our parents are from or what we have between our legs – now we are to be judged on our merits alone. Attitudes won't change overnight, but the law has changed, and that's a start. People like Gabe and Peggy are now on an equal standing with people like you and I. Some people are angry about it. They don't realize that equality is not a competition. Giving rights to women and colored people does not take rights away from men and white people. Equality benefits everybody. It raises everyone up to the same level; it does not drag anyone down.

Today has been a good day.

Good days are becoming increasingly few and far between, lately. I feel like things are falling apart between Peggy and I. After Stephanie died, we tried to have another baby. We tried for nine years, but without any success. Last month, the doctor said that we had run out of time; that Peggy is too old now, that she has no more eggs.

That night, she cried for hours and hours. I held her, stroked her hair, but I felt like a failure. I could not console her. I could not give her the child that she had wanted so desperately. I was devastated for her. All her life, she had wanted to have children. She would have been a wonderful mother, but now time, her biological clock, has simply run out. I felt like it was my fault. I wondered if we hadn't been able to have a child because I had done something wrong; perhaps it was punishment for being gay, perhaps I hadn't loved her enough, because even when I was with her, I would still sometimes think of you.

Peggy hasn't been the same since Stephanie died. She doesn't smile or laugh the way she used to. She doesn't seem to find any joy in life. Sometimes, I come home and find her just sitting in Stephanie's empty nursery, her eyes dull and lifeless as she looks at those beautifully-painted walls.

I've urged her to talk about Stephanie, but she never does. Whenever I mention her name, she grabs my hands and begs me to stop. I think it hurts too much, to think of her. She cannot bear to be reminded of what she lost, to be reminded that our beautiful baby daughter isn't with us.

I'm seriously worried about her. I think she is depressed. Last week, I begged her to go to the doctor, but she just told me: “What's the point? It won’t bring Stephanie back.” She doesn't see the point in anything anymore.

I wish you were here, to give me advice. You were always better at this emotional stuff than me. You'd know just what to say, just how to fix things – or at least how to convince her to get help. You'd be able to help her with her mental demons and go back to being the happy, wonderful Peggy she was before. That's all I want – for her to get better, to stop suffering.

Please, if you're able, help her.

Visit her in a dream, or appear as a ghost.

I miss you more than ever.

Yours,

Bucky

Chapter Text

Dear Steve,

Is it really 25 years since I last saw your face, not in photographs or dreams, but for real?

On some days, it doesn't feel that long – I can remember your face, your smell, as if I only saw you yesterday. The one thing I had feared the most never came to pass: I did not forget you. I didn't forget the way your voice sounded first thing in the morning. I didn't forget the way your skin felt or the way you tasted. I didn't forget the way your eyes scrunched up when you laughed. I remembered you, all of you, and I am thankful.

Other days, though, I look around me and I'm reminded of the passage of time. I look in the mirror, or around at our friends, and I see that we're all very visibly in our 50s. Our hair is going grey, our muscles are weakening, and our faces are lined with time and experience. But you, you're forever young, forever 26. You're frozen in time, so youthful and perfect, untouched by the process of ageing.

Sometimes, I look around at technology and wonder what you would make of it all. Things have changed so much from when we were young. Televisions are in color now. Gramophones have given way to audio cassettes. Last year, we put a man on the Moon. If I'd told you that, the day you went down in the Valkyrie, you'd have laughed and congratulated me on my imagination. It would have seemed impossible to you, to imagine such a feat.

It makes me realize that there is a large gulf between us now; a gap, a long stretch of emptiness, of apart-ness. Time has distanced us, and I hate it.

Peggy and I have divorced. There was no big fight, no emotional showdown or final straw. We just drifted apart, little by little, day by day, until one day we both realized that there was so much space between us that the distance was insurmountable. There's no animosity between us. We're still friends. We both understand that some things just don't work out, and our marriage turned out to be one of those things.

I think we knew, long before we officially ended it, that our relationship was over. I think it ended the day Stephanie died. Peggy was never the same after that, and I suppose, neither was I. She was our daughter, our whole world, and she passed away – that changes you forever. After Stephanie died, I started missing you more than ever. I would find myself crying and I wouldn't even know which one of you I was crying for.

Peggy worked out that you and I had been together. The day we separated, she told me: "There were always three people in this marriage, weren't there?" I didn't deny it. It was true: even though when I married Peggy I loved her deeply, I never did stop loving you. I would think of you all the time: on our wedding day, when we bought our first home, even, sometimes, when we would make love. You were always there: in the back of my mind, in my dreams, in the spaces between sentences. Peggy understood. She said there had been rumors about us, when we were in the Army. I told her that I was sorry that I hadn't been able to love her completely, that as hard as I had tried to be the best husband I could be, part of my heart had always been yours. She just said: "I know".

Tonight is Halloween night.

I remember, when we were kids, we used to go trick-or-treating. I remember one year, when we were around eight or nine years old, we spent the entire evening knocking on people's doors and pretending you were dying so that they'd give us more candy. The ironic thing, of course, is that at that age you were actually dying half the time. Looking back, we had quite a dark sense of humor.

By the end of the evening, we had a huge haul of candy. I thought we'd just go home, but you had a different idea. You were tired by that point, so you made me carry you on my back. I walked all the way to the hospital with you on my back and a massive bag of candy in my arms. You donated almost all the candy to the children's ward. You had friends there, you said, who weren't well enough to go trick-or-treating themselves. Reluctantly, I agreed. It was yet another example of your selfless spirit, of the real you. Even though the selfish, childish part of me was annoyed that you'd given our candy away, a part of me loved you, even then, for doing things like that.

You never acted that way to get praised, or for any form of reward. You did those things because it was at the core of who you were: a decent, kind person who always put others first. I remember being cowed, when I saw all those sick kids. I realized that you'd made the right decision, and I respected you for it. You were my inspiration, even back then.

Earlier this evening, quite a few kids knocked on my door. I plastered on a smile each and every time and handed them each a piece of chocolate. Halloween night is always difficult. It makes me think of Stephanie. I sit there waiting for the doorbell to ring and each time I see a little girl, I imagine what Stephanie would have looked like at their age. I wonder if she would have been outgoing or if she would have clung to my or Peggy's hand. I wonder what costume she would have wanted to wear.

This evening, at the very end of trick-or-treating time, I had one final knock on the door. I opened the door and almost cried when I saw the child. She was a little girl, about four years old. She had the longest blonde hair and the bluest eyes. She was dressed up as you, in your red, white and blue Captain America uniform. I looked at her, but I didn't see her. I saw you and Stephanie.

I saw you, when you first came out to Europe in your stupid stage uniform. I remembered seeing you for the first time in months, as you rescued me from the HYDRA base. I remembered the way it felt, that overwhelming rush of relief and shock and love at seeing you again.

I saw Stephanie, the way she may have looked aged four. I saw the way she was clinging to her father's hand and my own hand ached at the loss. I felt, at that moment, Stephanie's absence so keenly. I smiled and gave the little girl a chocolate and had to force myself not to slam the door.

I watched them walk away, peering furtively out of the window like a weirdo.

I watched her skipping down the path as she held her father's hand, a little plastic Captain America shield in her hand, and I cried.

Yours,

Bucky

Chapter Text

Dear Steve,

Divorced life is going OK. I had been anxious, at first, about how I'd be able to cope without Peggy. We had been such a central part of one another's lives for so long, that I had feared that I would not know how to live without her. As it turns out, life goes on. Peggy and I are still good friends. We meet up every week or so, to catch up and keep in touch. I am thankful to still have her in my life. Our friendship has actually improved since we separated. There's no longer that tension between us – that pressure of trying to fix a broken marriage, or trying to pretend that everything is going to be OK, when really things have not been OK since the day Stephanie died. Things are simpler between us now, and we’re both happier for it.

About three months after the divorce, I decided to go on some dates. I dated a few men: a Chris, a Joshua, a Tobias. If I'm being honest, dating did not excite me. I think my expectations were too high. I had hoped to find another man who would make me feel the way you did – butterflies in my stomach, that powerful, maddening, all-consuming love, that sense of having found a soulmate, another half to make me whole. None of them even came close. They were pleasant enough, good-looking enough, there was nothing bad about them, per se. They just weren't you. It was disappointing. We would go on a couple of dates, maybe fuck, and that would be that. Things would fizzle out, and it never felt like too much of a loss. I did not love them the way I loved you. I did not want to befriend them the way I did Peggy. They were just… meh.

It left me feeling as though I was drifting, aimless. I was drifting into bad habits – drinking because I was bored, and because there seemed no point in doing much else – when Peggy saved me. She gave me the kick up the backside that I needed, told me to stop feeling sorry for myself and do something with my life. It woke me up. I realized I needed to find some direction, some meaning, in my life. I needed to live life – for you, and for Stephanie, because neither of you ever really got a chance to live yours, and I'll be damned if I wasted mine just drinking out of a bottle. I ditched the booze and decided to go traveling. I remember, when we were young, you always wanted to go and see the Grand Canyon. You had seen photographs and heard stories, but you had never truly been able to imagine the scale of it, what it must feel like to be there.

I started my journey there. I bought a campervan, stocked up on supplies, and hit the road. The Grand Canyon was glorious. You would have loved it. It was so vast and stunning, this vivid red rock carved out of the landscape with a river running along the bottom. When you're standing there and looking out at something so big, it makes you feel small, but you know what, I actually liked that. I liked being reminded of how small and insignificant our lives are in the grand scheme of things. The Grand Canyon was there for millennia before we were born, and it will be there for millennia after I'm gone. It makes our short time on Earth feel magical. It makes me so thankful that we were together on this planet at the same time, that we knew one another, even if only briefly; that we had that connection that we never could have shared if one of us had been born 200 years earlier, or 200 years later, looking at the same Grand Canyon but having missed one another by just those few centuries. It made me realize that our every moment on Earth is precious, a miracle, that I was incredibly lucky to have known you, and Stephanie, and Peggy – the three greatest loves of my life.

I would have loved to have traveled the world with you. I would have loved it if we could have seen everything the world has to offer, side by side. I can picture us in Europe, marvelling at the beautiful old architecture, or visiting the Tate in Britain and joking about how we don't understand art. Actually, maybe it would just have been me who didn't understand it – you always did have a wonderful artistic flair with your sketches and your paintings. I can imagine us venturing into the wilderness, taking a map like all good soldiers but allowing ourselves the pleasure of getting a little bit lost, of going wherever our desires took us; walking through forests, swimming in lakes, climbing mountains. I wish we could have had all of that. I know you would have loved it. You always loved adventure, and I always admired you for it.

Sorry, I went off on a bit of a tangent, didn't I? The words just always seem to flow so easily when I talk to you – in my letters or in my prayers. You always were my favorite person to talk to. Anyway, after the Grand Canyon, I went West towards Yosemite National Park, then North up towards Wyoming. I was attracted to places without many people, where it could just be me, the world and my campervan – with your framed photograph, of course – alone with my thoughts, thinking of you, and what you'd have made of our grand road trip. I got lost, found myself again, almost crashed a couple of times on the trickier rural roads.

There was a moment one night, alone and parked up in a forest in Montana, that I began to cry. I cried and screamed for hours, until I was exhausted. I don't even know what triggered it, but it felt like a huge release. I mourned for you, for Stephanie, for the lives you never lived. I mourned for the life I tried and failed to have with Peggy, for the love we once shared that never quite recovered after we lost our daughter. I cried and raged in that forest, stomping around the campervan and so full of all those feelings I had been bottling up and repressing my entire life. It was intense. I'm glad there was no one around to see me like that. Not long afterwards, I ran out of money, sold the van and came back to New York City.

It's nice to be back. I feel calmer now, as though seeing the natural wonders and having that breakdown in Montana did me good. I feel like I saw those sights for both of us, and that feels good too. It's hard to find that same sense of peacefulness that I experienced out at the Grand Canyon here in New York City, but it has its own charm. It's vibrant. It's home. Sometimes, I even manage to find a bit of peace, in the evenings at the beach. Sometimes I go there when no one else is around and say a little prayer for you and Stephanie.

I wonder what you'd make of New York City, now. Times are changing so fast. You might not even recognize this place. Attitudes are changing (towards greater tolerance) and the skyline too. They've just finished constructing what they call the Twin Towers. They're absolutely magnificent – these two massive, glittering skyscrapers that seem to go up and up forever. They really do look as though they scrape the sky. I know you'd have loved to see them. You were always a geek for architecture and all that futuristic science stuff. Do you remember when we went to the World Fair in 1943, right before I went to join the war and you finally managed to enlist? Stark had that flying car prototype. We don't have flying cars yet, but in all other respects it really does feel as though the future is now. I wish you could have lived to see the Twin Towers; they really are an incredible feat of engineering – so tall and strong and beautiful. I bet they're going to last for centuries.

Yours,

Bucky

Chapter Text

Dear Steve,

I'm so sorry I haven't written to you for such a long time. Life got busy, and I never seemed to have enough time to sit down and put pen to paper. I have never stopped thinking about you, though. Every morning, I've said hello to your photograph by my bed, and talked to you inside my head. Can you hear me, when I do that? I'm not sure how praying works, or even if Heaven exists, but if you're up there, I hope you can hear my thoughts and feel how much I still love you. I hope it makes you feel happy.

I'm not sure how to say this, so I’ll just say it: I'm scared.

Now is a frightening time. There is a terrifying new threat facing the gay community. They call it AIDS; a virus that is spread by sex and leads to death. There's a large gay community in San Francisco, and that's where news of it first arose. Some people are saying it's a punishment from God for the way we live our lives. Others don't care much for God, but are nevertheless treating us like lepers.

Last week, Peggy and I met up for coffee. She didn't hug me, the way she normally does when we meet. I didn't notice anything strange about her behavior to start off with, but after a while, I did begin to clock on to various other little oddities. Peggy and I usually buy two different drinks and then share them. But this time, she did not offer me any of hers, and when I offered her a sip of my drink, she politely declined. Later on, she spilled some of her drink on her clean blouse, but when I offered her a tissue to help clean it up, she shook her head. It was only when she mentioned some pain and stiffness in her hands, and I offered to give them a quick massage, and she again declined (more vehemently this time), that I realized that she did not want to touch me.

I was angry and hurt. I challenged her and asked her if she thought I was unclean. She denied it, but when I reached out to touch her hand, she flinched and pulled it away before she could stop herself. She blushed and apologized profusely. I don't think I've ever seen her look so mortified. She admitted she was afraid to touch me in case I was infected with AIDS. She did not want to catch it. She had seen all kinds of horrible stories about it on the news and it frightened her. I was angry, although I'm not sure if I was more angry at her or at the TV channels and newspapers who are fuelling the hysteria. My meeting with Peggy ended quickly and awkwardly, after that. I didn't try to hug her goodbye, to save us both the pain and embarrassment of her inevitable refusal. I watched her go, and I felt wretched and less than.

For the rest of the day, I was in a foul mood, in turns furious and hurt at the way Peggy had treated me. Slowly though, the anger began to fade, and I hold no grudge against her, because, if I'm being honest with you, I'm scared too. I don't want to catch AIDS. If a man offered to sleep with me, right now, I would say no, out of fear of catching it. It's a risk I'm not willing to make, and all of a sudden I can understand why Peggy would be frightened to drink out of my cup, or let me rub her hands, or even hug her, because in her position, I would do the exact same. We don't know enough about AIDS works, how it spreads and how (if at all) it can ever be cured. Until we have the answers to those questions, I think it's wise for me not to have sex anymore. I'm not alone in my thinking. A lot of my gay friends are in a similar position and have come to the same conclusion. The fear is at fever pitch. Everyone is hysterical. The public are terrified. It's impossible not to be affected by it.

I guess, in my case, it's no great loss. I'm getting a bit old for dating and hook-ups anyway. I've all but given up hope of ever finding someone else who will make me feel the way you did. You were one-in-a-kind, unique; a once-in-a-lifetime kind of love. We had our time, and it was brief but beautiful. Perhaps, now, it's time for me to age in peace. The other day, I lost a tooth. I look in the mirror and I can see that I'm losing my looks. I've not been a young man for a long time. Middle age has passed me by and now I'm heading toward my twilight years.

My only wish is that I could have shared them with you.

Yours,

Bucky

Chapter Text

Dear Steve,

I've had to move into a care home.

You have no idea how embarrassing it is for me to write that. I've always been proud to be a capable and practical man; well-equipped and perfectly able to look after myself and others. I took pride in looking after my sisters when we were growing up. I took pride in moving out and supporting myself as soon as I was able to. I took pride in being a good husband to Peggy, to looking after her needs. To no longer be capable of living alone and looking after myself is a bitter and humiliating blow. It revolts me in a way that isn't even rational. I know objectively that there's no shame in living in a care home, and it's something that I would never look down on someone else for – I just never thought it would happen to me.

I hate it. The unfamiliarity of it unsettles me. It's a strange place full of new people. It feels more like a hospice than a home. I feel as though everyone here is just waiting to die. It's a miserable and depressing place – or maybe that's just me projecting my own feelings outwards. It's hard to tell. Moving here has meant I've lost a lot of my independence. That's the main reason why I resisted moving here for as long as I could.

Recently, though, I simply became too frail to look after myself. Stairs are too much of a challenge, now. My hands shake too much to be able to cook. On some days, my joints feel so stiff and aching that it's hard to even get out of bed. I went to the doctor about it, afraid I was deathly ill, but he said it was simply arthritis, a common disease of old age, a natural part of growing old. Reluctantly, after a lot of deliberation, I came to my decision.

So, now, I live in a care home.

It's in New York City at least, so I'm close to where I grew up and where Stephanie is buried. That, at least, is a comfort. It is nice to still be near my little girl, and the care manager has said she'll take me out to her grave on her birthday so that I can pay my respects. The staff here are friendly, especially when you talk to them one-on-one. I don't like it so much when I have to be with the other residents at mealtimes. The staff are so overstretched that I feel like we become one homogeneous group of "old folk" which makes me feel slightly invisible. It's hard for me to be one of a group; I've never particularly felt like I fit in, at any time of my life.

The care home puts on games and activities for all the residents, but I don't like to join in with them. Perhaps I'm still angry or in denial about being here, but to me they seem stupid and patronizing. I prefer to spend my time reading by myself, or just sitting by my window and watching the people go about their day outside. I like people-watching, and in the back of my mind, even though I know you're gone, I think a tiny, stubborn part of me is still hoping that perhaps I'll see you there, beautiful and alive, walking down the sidewalk.

There are some old couples here at the care home. I've become fairly friendly with a couple named George and Gladys. George is an ex-military man, like me, and sometimes we reminisce together about what it was like in the old days. It's lovely to see these old couples who've stood the test of time, whose love has lasted a lifetime, who met as young lovers and continued loving one another all the way to old age, to the end of the line. I wish you could be here, too. Sometimes, I look at George and Gladys sitting together in their armchairs and wonder what it would look like if it were us sitting there instead, you and me.

I'm still in touch with Peggy. We write often and speak on the phone at least once a week. She's had to move into a care home too, but hers is for those with more complex needs. She's developed Alzheimer's disease, and I'm sad to say that every time we speak on the phone, it feels as though more and more of her is eroding away. Her memories and sense of self are fading. The great ocean of forgetfulness is surrounding her tighter and tighter. It is tragic. I fear that one day she might forget me, or even Stephanie. She retains her kindness, though. Even when she's frustrated, she never lashes out at others. I think her sense of kindness is a core part of who she is. It is not something that can be forgotten. Her kindness is one of the biggest things that made me fall in love with her.

Anyway, I must go. It's time for our evening meal and medications.

I hope you're well, wherever you are in Heaven, and that occasionally you look down on me and Peggy and all our other Earth-bound friends.

Yours,

Bucky

Chapter Text

Dear Steve,

Peggy died last week.

The grief is like a hole in my chest, and it’s filled with memories of the life we shared – and the life we didn't. I went to her funeral and met old friends of hers who I'd known when we were married. I met some relatives of hers who I hadn’t met before, including a young girl, her great niece, called Sharon. She was a sweet little girl, blonde, and talking to her made me wonder what Stephanie would have looked like at her age.

The funeral was difficult and emotional. Despite the breakdown of our marriage, Peggy was (and remained, right up to the end) one of my best friends. I loved her, and I never really stopped; the love just evolved from romantic to platonic. Faced with her friends and family, I couldn't help but be forced to think about my failure as a husband. I wish I had been able to give her the children she longed for. I wish I had been able to save her from the depths of her depression after Stephanie's death. I wish I could have been a better man, the husband who she deserved, because she was an extraordinary woman who made my life so much richer just for knowing her. I wish we could have grown old together, so that I could have supported her better when she began her battle with dementia. I wish we could have had been in love in our old age, sitting in matching armchairs like George and Gladys, and soothed one another through our twilight years. Some things are not meant to be, I guess.

I keep remembering all these little, wonderful moments of our life together. I remember one time, after another fruitless mission combing the ocean floor looking for your aircraft, she came to my cabin and cheered me up by acting out a ridiculous play she'd thought up over the week prior, with all these different voices for all the characters – a pirate, a priest, a banker. I can't remember how the play went anymore, but I remember it was a comedy, and a wickedly funny one at that. Not many people knew about Peggy's creativity or humorous side. As a woman in the military, she couldn't let herself gain the image of someone who wasn't absolutely stern and serious. The prejudice and sexism were strong enough as it was – she did not want to show any outward sign of perceived weakness that those bigots could use against her. It made the play all the more special – the fact that she trusted me enough to reveal this silly side of herself – with her gravelly pirate's voice, and the posh voice of the banker, and the inexplicably high-pitched voice of the priest.

I remember another time, once we'd started dating, she took me to the top of her apartment block where there was a small garden that she'd nurtured by herself. It wasn't much, just a couple of chairs surrounded by potted plants and flowers, but I remember being so touched that she'd shown me her special place, a place she'd created all by herself, and thinking that despite (or perhaps because of) its simplicity, it was beautiful. We spent all evening and a good portion of the night up there, sipping wine and talking together under the stars. We even made love up there, one or two times, until the landlord put up the rent and she had to move out to live somewhere cheaper.

I remember when she was heavily pregnant with Stephanie, she had the most awful aches in her feet. I remember one evening we spent hours on the sofa, just me massaging her feet, thinking of names we could call our baby. That night, once the aches in her feet had finally been reduced, we danced a slow dance, her huge bump between us; this real, visible representation of our love that we couldn't wait to meet.

It's tough to think that I can't make any more memories with her. I miss her so much. To live in a world without her breaks my heart. She was my best friend. Our marriage might not have lasted, but our friendship did, and we made one another happy right up until the end.

As I watched her coffin being carefully lowered into the ground, it began to rain. It floored me. It was stunning, how hard it hit me: that this was the end of Peggy Carter. She was settling into her final resting place, beside our daughter, six feet underground. I cried, unashamed, because I knew then that I would never see her again. Peggy has joined you and Stephanie, and I want you all back. I pray that you're looking after her, laughing and joking up there while I sit down here alone on Earth.

Her burial made me think about my own mortality. I realize, now, that my time is running out. One day – maybe one year from now, maybe a decade, maybe two – I, too, will die. It sobered me. It made me reflect. It made me think about what I still want to achieve before I die. Normally, when people think about this, they think of grand things, their own ambitions that they haven't yet achieved – but my one wish actually has nothing to do with me. It is about you. I want to live long enough for your body to be found and repatriated. I want to live long enough to see you brought back, to be given a proper burial, to be celebrated as a hero and given a funeral with full military honors. I want you to come home.

I'll try my best to hold on, until you're found. That is my most solemn vow.

Steve, my love, I promise, I will wait for you.

Yours,

Bucky

Chapter Text

Dear Steve,

Today has been the most horrific day.

I cannot stop shaking. Everything feels unreal. It dawned such a beautiful day; blue September skies and glorious sunshine. I was sitting with Gladys, enjoying a warm spot by the window and talking with her about her grandchildren. It was perfectly ordinary, like any other day.

It began soon after that. We heard a loud noise, from Lower Manhattan, but we weren't entirely sure what it was. I thought perhaps a truck had crashed. Gladys' hearing was so bad that she didn't hear anything at all. Then, someone turned on the TV, and we began to understand what was really going on.

A plane had crashed into one of the Twin Towers. It stunned all of us. We were horrified that such a terrible accident could take place. We heard the sirens of fire engines and police cars as they whizzed past. Everyone wanted to help, but there was nothing we could do, and honestly, everyone was too in shock to be of much use to anyone, even ignoring our physical frailties. There was a shocked, depressing feeling throughout the home. We were aware of the tragedy that had happened on the other side of the water, but we were powerless to help, even though we were desperate to.

It was only about quarter of an hour later, when the second plane hit the second tower, that we realized that it was no accident. After that, everything became a bit of a blur. The care workers were in a panic. Residents were crying and afraid. On the sidewalks that I like to look out at and people-watch, there were hundreds of people running past with panic on their faces. A middle-aged woman tripped and fell. Two teenage boys helped her back up. Strangers were helping one another. Strangers were banding together and supporting one another. It would have been lovely to see such levels of cooperation, on any other day, under any other circumstances.

We were evacuated just before the first tower collapsed. I was crammed into the back seat of a car belonging to the care home manager, Jessica Taylor – along with Gladys and another old lady who had only recently joined the care home whose name I can’t remember. We were driving away. Gladys was crying. I held her hand, trying to comfort her, the way George would have done had he still been alive. When the first tower collapsed, even Gladys stopped crying. There was total silence as we watched the tower come down, sending out a huge cloud of dust.

I was aware, then, that thousands of innocent people had just been murdered. I was stunned. I could barely remember how to breathe. It was the most awful, sickening thing. None of us could utter a single sound, although on the inside I felt as though my soul was screaming. This was New York City, my home, not some war zone. I cannot fathom why anyone would be filled with so much hate that they would want to murder so many people, so indiscriminately. It is truly evil.

We drove. We went far away, out of the city, to Jessica’s parents’ house, and they kindly offered their hospitality to us. Presently, I am sitting in one of the guest bedrooms, writing to you with a borrowed pen on a kindly stranger's desk. I know now that the second tower collapsed, that there was also an attack on the Pentagon, and that a plane came down in a field in Somerset County, Pennsylvania. I am numb. My hands are shaking. I saw the Twin Towers when they were newly built; shiny and full of hope and promise. I thought they would last for centuries. I never imagined that they would be gone in my lifetime, far less like this.

I'm not sure of anything anymore. I don't just mean the events of today. I mean that the world itself is becoming more confusing for me. I am becoming forgetful, and the carers are on alert to see if I develop any more concerning symptoms that could indicate dementia. I would not mind forgetting today, but I pray to God that I never forget you.

I'm sorry, my handwriting in this letter is awful. I am exhausted and my heart is breaking for all these victims, and their friends, their families; so many lives destroyed. I will sleep now, and I pray that I will wake up tomorrow in my own bed, to find that today was just a horrible dream.

Yours,

Bucky

Chapter Text

Dear Steve,

Today, gay sex was legalized across the US.

I am so happy and in quite a bit of shock. I never thought this day would come. I remember wishing for it, when I was younger, and thinking it was a pipe dream. Now, the dream is reality, and it feels glorious. What a wonderful thing it is, that people are no longer criminalized for expressing their love in a physical way. We no longer have to hide in the shadows, in fear of the law. We can be free.

Gay rights have changed so much from when we were young. You would not recognize the world today. We are no longer invisible. Sex is legal. There are even "pride" parades, where LGBT people and straight allies march in celebration of us, and to raise awareness of the inequalities that still remain. Thousands of people attend these parades, and more still line the streets to cheer them on. Can you believe it?

I remember, when we were young, how we had to hide our activities from everyone around us. We would be anxious about whether anyone would see us leaving the other's apartment in New York City, or the other's tent when we were deployed to Europe during the war. We would always have our excuses prepared beforehand, should anyone confront us with their suspicions.

I wonder what it would have been like if we had been born not then, but now. We could have bought that little house together, the way we had always planned. We would not have had to hide our relationship. We could have been open. We could have been free. We could have been a couple, gay and proud and unafraid to tell the world how much we truly loved one another.

It's too late for us, but it warms my heart that the young men and women of today have the chance to live and love openly, freely and without fear.

Progress is slow, but it is better late than never.

Yours, 

Bucky

Chapter Text

Dear Steve,

America has elected her first mixed race President.

I remember, not too long ago, it feels like, when black and mixed race people were made to sit at the back of the bus. Young people nowadays learn about that in the history books, but back when you were alive, that was the reality. Today feels like a great leap forward in our journey toward justice, in our journey toward fixing those wrongs of the past. Things are still far from perfect, but so much has changed in my lifetime. I wish you were here to celebrate this historic moment. I know you'd be thrilled. You never treated anyone differently because of the color of their skin. You were always kind to everyone and would fight anyone who was a bully. You hated racists and bigots. It's one of the things that I admired most about you – how strongly you stood by your principles. I remember, in Europe, some soldier made a racist comment about Gabe Jones in front of you. I have the feeling he instantly regretted it, based on how fast he scuttled away after you laid into him. You were clear in your message: the Howling Commandos were a family; Gabe was our brother. No one ever dared say anything racist to him after that.

Gabe died last month. We kept in touch right until the end. He never forgot you. He never gave up hope your body would be found. He had a good life – got married to a sweet woman named Beatrice and had twin boys. Family was important to him. After the war, he went into nursing. During his lifetime, he must have saved thousands of lives. After seeing so much death, he devoted himself to preserving life. He was one of those quiet heroes – never arrogant, always humble. He really was a genuine force for good.

I intended to go to his funeral, but a few days before the ceremony I developed a chest infection that left me bed-bound. I missed the funeral, which I'm gutted about. I sent a card of condolence and a bouquet of lilies to Beatrice and the family. As soon as I was better, I had a shot of whiskey to toast him goodbye – it was his favorite drink.

It feels like my circle of friends is dwindling toward nothing. Every year, more and more people are leaving me in this world and joining you in yours. I hope you and Gabe have had the chance to catch up again, up there. I know he’ll be so happy to see you again. He missed you more than you could know.

Say hello to him from me.

Yours,

Bucky

Chapter Text

Dear Steve,

Holy shit.

You're alive.

You're alive.

I am still shaking. When I heard the news, I thought I was going mad. I was reading a book with the TV switched on in the background, when all of a sudden, a breaking news bulletin came on air, followed by that old famous black and white photo of you in your Captain America uniform. The news anchor announced that you had been found – alive – in the ice near Greenland, and I think I must have screamed, because the next thing I knew there were several carers running into my room looking mightily concerned for my well-being. The news anchor mentioned the name of the hospital you'd been taken to and I tried to get up and leave right then and there, arthritic joints be damned. I was determined to walk there and be there for you when you woke up, but the carers restrained me and gave me some pills to make me calm down instead. If my handwriting is wobbly, that's why – the pills.

Steve, I hardly dare believe it. I'm afraid I'm going to wake up and for this all to have been a dream or some dementia-induced delusion. My heart is bursting with joy. I spent so long holding out hope for you to be found alive. When I finally accepted that you must be dead, it was like a part of my heart died with you. I grieved for you, I begged for you to come back, but at last I accepted what everyone around me had been saying for years – that you were gone, that it was time to move on. To now have news of your discovery (alive, I still can't believe it!) thrust upon me, it feels like my entire life has been upended, the pieces scattered. It is a joyful moment. It is a confusing moment. It's a moment I've longed for my entire life, and now that it's finally here, I don't know how to cope with it.

Steve, my darling, today is one of the happiest days of my life. You're home, and not in some coffin, but breathing. I never thought this would happen; not since Peggy and I held our private funeral service for you, when we went down to the beach and wrote your name in the sand and watched as the tide came in and slowly washed it away, when I finally let you go. You've come back to me – just as I always asked you to. I want to hug you and talk to you and hear your voice again. I never thought this day would come, and now there's a lump in my throat and dewiness in my eyes, because finally we can be reunited, me and you, together again, at last.

It's getting late, but tomorrow, once I've had some time to rest, I'll ask the care home staff if they're able to contact your hospital and inform you of my whereabouts.

Steve, my darling, I cannot wait to see you again.

Yours,

Bucky

Chapter Text

Dear Steve,

Today, you came to visit me.

I cannot describe how it felt when I first saw you, in the flesh, for the first time since 1945. If I could only pick one word, it would be "overwhelming". You walked into my room, looking uncertain and wide-eyed in your new civilian clothes, and the moment I saw you, I could swear my heart stopped. Your eyes were exactly that beautiful cornflower shade of blue that I remembered. It felt like all my life, I'd been waiting for that one moment, and when it finally came, I didn't know what to say.

Seeing you was like seeing a ghost. It was like a dream; the happiest dream of my life. I saw you, and I felt my heart was going to burst. So many emotions warred inside me: happiness, that you were back; sadness and something a little like grief, that we missed out on so much life together; and fear, that it would be impossible to resume our friendship where we left off, that this huge upheaval, this huge chasm in time, was simply too large for us to overcome. All of a sudden, looking at you so youthful and perfect and at the prime of your life, I felt this deep sense of shame, of embarrassment. Because while you are just as young and perfect as I remember, I'm an old man now, with wrinkles and wispy white hair and false teeth. I felt ugly, and it pained me that you would think I was ugly; just some ugly old man in a musty care home.

I need not have worried. You stared at me, took two huge strides forward, and wrapped your arms around me. I smelled your glorious smell, felt the solid strength of your arms, and it felt like home. I'm not ashamed to say I clung to you for many long minutes, perhaps more than was appropriate – but after so long waiting for you, how could I not? I held you in my arms, and I felt you holding me, and I remembered all the times, before, that we’d embraced. I remembered how we would hug before setting off on a mission in Europe. I remembered how we would hug when we'd meet up in New York City to hang out, before the war. I remembered how you felt in my arms, when we would make love, and when we'd share a bed and spill our thoughts as we basked in the quiet perfection of the afterglow. I remembered all of it, every hug, but none could be sweeter than that one, right there, that I'd waited sixty-six long years for.

When we finally stopped hugging, we sat together, and we talked. I'm afraid to say that my conversation was not the best, and neither was yours. It was stilted and awkward, not because there was nothing to say, but because there was too much. We were both in shock. I don't think either of us were prepared to see the other, after so many years apart. For me, I'd lived a life, my life, ninety-three years in total; sixty-six years without you. I had accepted you were gone; I had mourned for you; I had let you go and grown old without you. To see you again was like a dream – beautiful but unreal. And for you, from your perspective, you'd crashed into the ice just days ago. You had just woken up, almost 70 years in the future, the world changed beyond recognition. I cannot imagine how strange this must all be for you. It's no wonder that we struggled to talk to one another, to find something to say that could even begin to scratch the surface of all that lost time. It was far too much for us to process, in our one hour of visiting time.

The hour passed quickly. We stumbled through awkward, superficial conversation and at the end of it, you hugged me again and promised to come and visit me again next week. I nodded. You turned to leave, and I was too overwhelmed, too stunned, to say anything more than "bye".

It's only now, several hours later, as I'm writing this letter, that I'm really starting to process your visit. Now that the shock of seeing your face again has worn off, I feel slightly foolish for not having been able to talk with you properly. I promise that next week, when you come to visit me again, we'll talk properly. I'll tell you how me and the rest of the Howling Commandos searched for you. I'll tell you about Peggy and I, and how we became best friends – and more than that. I'll tell you about my daughter, about Stephanie, and how perfect she was, even though she never took a single breath. I'll tell you about how I lost myself, and then found myself again, traveling around the US in my beat-up campervan. I'll tell you all about my life, the big things and the little things, the things that I never thought I'd have the chance to share with you.

And finally, at last, I'll tell you that I love you. I have never said it to you before, but seeing you today made it so blindingly clear that the words finally need to be said out loud. I love you. I love you. I have loved you my entire life, and I will love you forever. Having seen you today, I feel so alive, so full of hope in a way that I haven't since 1945. I am so looking forward to seeing you again. You have made me feel like a young man again. My heart is singing, and the next time I see you, I will tell you everything.

I love you so much – I cannot wait to finally say those words to you, next week when you come to visit me again.

I love you.

Yours forever,

Bucky

Chapter Text

Dear Mr. Rogers,

We regret to inform you that James Buchanan Barnes passed away peacefully in his sleep on the night of August 8.

We would like to extend an invitation to Mr. Barnes' funeral, which will take place on August 17 at the Cemetery of the Evergreens, where he will be buried alongside his former wife and long-time friend Margaret Carter and daughter Stephanie Barnes.

Please find enclosed a collection of letters addressed to you, which we discovered while sorting through Mr. Barnes' possessions. We believe he would have wanted you to have them.

All the staff here at Merry Oaks Care Home would like to extend our sincerest condolences. Mr. Barnes was a resident here for many years, and he will be greatly missed by us all.

Jessica Taylor

General Manager

Merry Oaks Care Home