Steve stood at the gaping hole in the train long after Bucky’s scream had died out. He stared down at the mountain ravine until it was no more, as if Bucky would suddenly pop up making a crack about missing dinner.
Gabe joined him soon. “Cap?” It was pretty obvious what had happened, and Gabe made a wounded sound as he sank to his knees near the hole of the train.
When Steve spoke, it was hollow sounding, as dead as the barren trees around them. “What about the train?”
“We’ve stopped, we reached the rendezvous point.” Or what was left of the old, abandoned station. Steve hadn’t even noticed. “Zola and his men are all tied up, nice and pretty.”
Steve knew that was good, that Zola couldn’t do more damage, but right now all he wanted to do was rip the man apart piece by piece. Bucky had been taken from him yet again, just by the work of some small, dweeby bad guy. But this time, he wasn’t coming out of it with a lifetime of trauma and constant headaches. He wasn’t coming out of it at all.
Bucky had always been terrified of heights. Now he’d fallen to his death from them.
Steve could feel the tears coursing down his cheeks, but he didn’t make a sound. He didn’t let out the screams that clawed up his chest, the sobs he so desperately wanted to unleash. Bucky couldn’t be gone.
Gabe placed a hand on his shoulder, grounding him for a moment. “He’s not there anymore boss. We’re not even on the mountain anymore. I know it’s hard, but we gotta go meet the others.”
Steve allowed Gabe to help him up, but he didn’t register any of it. He didn’t register the Howling Commandos coming towards them with proclamations of joy, only to turn into poorly hidden tears when they realized that they’d lost one of their own.
Steve wandered in a daze back to camp, only thinking a single sentence over and over again.
Bucky is gone.
It had been three days since the train, and Steve was as good as useless to his crew. Thankfully, Phillips had taken sympathy and allowed them a few days off, but Steve had simply holed up in his tent. Even Peggy hadn’t been able to get him out.
Why should he go out? Bucky, his beautiful, strong, kind, and funny Bucky, was dead.
Steve and Bucky had been friends since they were about five years old, but they’d become-well, everything, at about sixteen. A simple drunk night had led to both of them confessing their feelings, and even though Bucky had been scared and nervous once they’d sobered-well, Steve was never one to back away from a challenge.
Just one kiss while they were sober, and their lives had changed forever.
Getting an apartment together wasn’t suspicious. Everyone only really thought of them as a unit, Steve&Bucky, and approved them getting started in life together. Sometimes Steve had wondered if their families, his mom and Bucky’s family, had known. At least their mothers must have.
But living together meant that they could cuddle together every night. That they could kiss in the privacy of their own walls, that intimacy was safe from prying eyes.
Were they boyfriends? Steve supposed, yes. Lovers? Of course. But it had been so much more than that. They’d been everything to each other. And that hadn’t changed. Even during the war, they wrote their love letters to each other. Letters that to anyone else would’ve simply looked like a close bond between friends, but to the pair of them had a hidden meaning.
When Bucky had gone missing, when the 107th was captured, Steve had felt like the ground had disappeared underneath his feet. He didn’t know how to exist without Bucky, and he didn’t want to find out. It was a chasm he hadn’t ever wanted to explore.
But now Bucky had disappeared down an actual chasm, and Steve was lost once again.
The first night after Steve had rescued Bucky, they’d been curled up in their shared tent together. The risk of being found was strong, but they couldn’t remain separate any longer.
Bucky felt so small in his arms, so vulnerable. Steve placed a soft kiss on his cheek. “I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
Bucky made a sound very close to a sniffle. “Move on, I hope.” He said quietly. “Dames are hardly turning up their noses at you now. I think Peggy wouldn’t say no to a date.”
Steve shook his head, holding Bucky closer. “No. Peggy is great, but she’s not you. I don’t ever want anyone but you.”
Bucky made another undefinable sound. “I thought you would.” He confessed. “The moment we were away from the base, I looked at you and I was so sure you were gonna leave me behind. You have your pick now, the cream of the crop.”
“Never.” Steve vowed softly, holding him close. “I’m never gonna leave you behind. You’re it for me, Buck. I love you.”
“I love you too, Stevie.”
Steve got off his cot and grabbed his rucksack. He dressed warmly and left the tent, the cold night air washing around him. Everyone was asleep, which was good. Steve hoped to at least be back by sunrise.
He hadn’t gotten far when Dugan’s rumble stopped him. “And where exactly are you going?”
Steve slowly turned, only to see Morita, Falsworth, Dugan, Jones, and Dernier watching him. Gabe stood and walked over to him. “You’re going to get his body, aren’t you?”
Steve swallowed heavily, but there was no use denying it. “I am.” His voice was gruff from doing little more than crying the past three days. “I just-I can’t leave him out there. He at least deserves to be sent home to his family.”
“Aye.” Dugan agreed, the rest of them joining Steve and Gabe. “And we’re coming with you.”
“He’d do it for us.” Falsworth piped up.
“He deserves better than to lie in a ravine for all eternity.” Morita said with a nod.
“Barnes was one of us.” Dernier said something else empathetically in French, as he was bound to do when excited or emotional. The sentiment was there though.
Steve swallowed hard. “It’s not going to be easy.” He warned quietly.
“Which is why you shouldn’t do it alone.” Dugan insisted gravely. “We’re coming with you.”
Steve didn’t argue anymore. He really couldn’t do this alone. He couldn’t bring Bucky’s battered body back alone, no matter how much it was his and only his burden to carry. And so, Captain America and his Howling Commandos went on the most important mission they’d ever had.
Bucky Barnes deserved to rest in peace.
Steve was almost ready to give up, and felt more shame than he ever had before at the thought of it. Sunrise would come soon, and they still hadn’t found Bucky’s body. Steve hadn’t realized how far into the ravine he must have actually fallen.
The Commandos hadn’t left his side, a strong support. Steve was grateful they’d come, because he couldn’t have done it alone. Gabe and Dum Dum were on either side, shining their flashlights over every inch of snowy canyon.
Steve walked ahead, shining his flashlight around. At any other time, this would be a pretty sight. Snow, lit by the very first tendrils of dawn and his flashlight, covered slopes of rock.
Steve aimed his flashlight upwards, wondering vaguely if Bucky could’ve caught on a ledge. That was when he saw it. A smash of red against white. The blood covered snow against the side of the mountain was stark in his flashlight’s gleam.
Steve swiveled his flashlight around, and that’s when he saw it. Something he had previously mistaken for a rock, but he could now see was a snow covered shoe.
A ragged, broken sound tore from his lips as he darted forward, stumbling in his haste. He barely even registered the amount of red snow as he dropped down beside his Bucky, brushing the layer of snow off of him. Fresh tears dripped down his face as he took in the body of his everything, battered and broken. The mangled and missing left arm, his bloodied face, all those features that he’d missed so sorely these past few days.
Steve didn’t even hear the Commandos come up, but he knew they were there. Gabe knelt beside him, Dum Dum’s hand on his shoulder. For a long moment, they knelt there in silence, a moment of love and respect for their comrade.
Then Dernier said softly, “The red is spreading.”
Upon looking up, they saw it was true. The bloody snow was growing steadily. But Bucky had been dead for three days, he shouldn’t still be bleeding...
Steve turned back hurriedly to Bucky, pressing his fingers to the ice cold neck. His head whipped up to look at the others, tears streaming down his face. “He’s got a pulse.”
Bucky was alive!
“How the bloody hell-“ Falsworth exclaimed as he crowded closer. All the Commandos were saying something along those lines, but Steve could only focus on his Bucky. He patted the man’s cheeks gently, saying urgently,
“Bucky, wake up! Come on, sweetheart-“ he froze at his own words and snapped his head to look at the Commandos, who to their credit looked remarkably unimpressed.
“What, you think we didn’t already know? Get on with it!” Dum Dum demanded, his eyes giving away a layer of kindness and understanding.
Steve swallowed hard and turned back to Bucky, continuing to pat his cheeks gently. “Come Buck, please wake up. Please-“
Those beautiful blue eyes slowly fluttered open, a long moment passing before they fixed on Steve. A tiny twitch of the lips showed that he was aware of his surroundings, but was obviously too weak to say or do anything.
Steve snapped into commander mode, pushing aside his emotions. “We need to bind the arm, stop it from bleeding out anymore.”
With a little bit of investigating, Morita pulled out a wrap of surprisingly clean gauze from his pack. Steve quickly bound Bucky’s arm up, his partner seemingly more aware but still quiet. He’d started shivering, which Steve supposed was a good thing that he could still feel the cold.
“We need to get back to camp, staying out here would be stupid and he needs a medic or ten.” Dugan spoke up, and he had a good point.
Steve picked up Bucky, who huddled close to his warmth, and they set off. They had more urgency in their step than before, knowing that whatever had kept Bucky alive this long might run out at any time. Falsworth had given Bucky a small sip of coffee to warm him up, but they knew that too much would speed up his heart and the last thing they needed was more blood loss.
Bucky had passed out again, which meant Steve frantically checking his pulse every five minutes. The sergeant seemed peaceful though, and more than once Steve had almost stumbled because he was so busy looking at his partner. The Commandos didn’t say a word, continuing to flank Steve as they protected their precious cargo.
Close to camp, Bucky stirred again and woke up with a quiet whimper of pain. Steve simply held him close, murmuring soft, nonsensical words to him. After a moment, Bucky slurred out,
Steve looked down at him and nodded, blinking back tears. “Yeah Buck, it’s me.”
“Ya came back?”
“I came back, Buck. I told you I’d never leave you behind.”
The soft smile that appeared on Bucky’s face was like sunshine, a beacon of hope. “I love you.” He said softly, slowly drifting back to sleep.
“I love you too Buck.”
Bucky was alive. He was going to survive.
Steve visited Bucky in the medical tent when the sergeant was fully awake. Steve hadn’t left his partner’s side for days until a nurse had shooed him out. Now, Bucky was not only awake, but apparently on the mend.
The brunette’s beautiful smile lit up the room as Steve came in. Thankfully, they were alone as Steve quickly sat beside him.
“Hey Stevie.” Bucky smiled at him tiredly. “They told me that you wouldn’t leave my side until they forced you out.”
“Of course not.” Steve said rather indignantly. “I couldn’t leave you alone again.”
Some of his guilt must have steeped through, because Bucky reached across his right arm and squeezed his hand gently. “Hey. None of this was your fault. You found me, Stevie.”
“I was looking for your body.” Steve protested in a choked up voice, squeezing his hand back desperately. “I was looking for your body, and all this time you were out there alone, freezing and in pain.”
“And it wasn’t your fault. I should’ve been dead. Even without the fall, I should’ve bled out. I didn’t though, and you still found me. You got me back, and I’m going to be ok.”
“They’ll send you home though.” Steve said softly. “I won’t be able to take care of you.”
Bucky looked nervously at their joined hands, squeezing them as if for strength. “I’m not going home.”
Steve looked at him blankly, an incredulous look on his face. “Buck... you’re missing your arm. Of course they’re sending you home.”
Bucky bit his lip even more nervously. Steve tried not to get distracted by it, too worried about this change in plans. “So Stark...He was worried about my job chances on getting home without an arm. He, um, he made something called a prosthetic. It’s basically a metal version of my biological arm, with mostly the same capabilities.”
Steve’s eyes narrowed. “And they’re making you stay, because you’ll technically still have two arms?”
Bucky shook his head slowly. “I, um, I asked to stay.”
Steve sat back, looking at Bucky incredulously. “Why the hell would you do that? Bucky, you’ve earned your discharge ten times over. You can escape this hell hole-“
“Not without you.” Bucky said firmly. “I’m not leaving you to go to war without me watching your six. I can’t go home to be coddled while you’re over here risking your life. I refuse. Phillips agreed, with a little bit of sweet talking. Stark isn’t thrilled, but I think he’s impressed. He promised to make the arm as close to real as possible.” Bucky pushed himself up, reaching out and cupping Steve’s cheek. “I can’t leave you.”
Steve’s eyes filled with tears, and he saw that Bucky was the same. “Baby, I’ve lost you twice.” He reached up to clutch at Bucky’s hand. “I can’t lose you again.”
“You won’t.” Bucky said quietly. “If we do go out, we’ll go out together. But I can’t live by myself at home, hearing that you rushed into something without me to watch over you and died. I refuse. Please baby, this is my choice.”
Steve couldn’t argue with that. Instead, he carefully gathered Bucky into his arms and held him close, muttering, “You’re gonna be the death of me.”
“I love you too baby.”
This man was his everything.
“Baby, it’s ok.” Bucky stood behind him, eyes sparkling softly, but not from happiness.
Steve shook his head empathetically. “No, Buck, it’s not! I can’t be responsible for your death again.”
“You’ve never been responsible for my death.” Bucky knelt next to him, looking up at him. “We don’t have a choice. We need to put her in the water.”
Steve didn’t care if he himself died, but Bucky deserved better. “But-“
“Unless you actually know a way around this, no buts. We’ll die anyway if we keep going. At least this way, our loss is only two.”
Steve nodded after a moment, and Bucky and he gave a final goodbye to the Commandos over the radio before switching off. He set the plane in a nosedive downwards and stood to look at Bucky.
His love looked lost, as if unsure what to do now that they were just waiting. When Steve opened his arms, they crashed together in a tight hug, holding onto each other desperately.
“Ya know something Buck?”
“What’s that?” Bucky’s voice was muffled against his neck.
“I would’ve married you, if we could’ve.”
Bucky let out something between a laugh and a sob, clutching tighter onto Steve. Steve knew he was holding Bucky just as tight. “I would’ve married you too.”
“I’m sorry we never could.”
“It wouldn’t have come in our lifetime anyway. Maybe one day, people like us won’t have to be afraid.”
“I love you more than anything, for all eternity.”
Bucky pulled back just enough to kiss Steve deeply, saying softly, “I love you too, forever and always.”
When they froze, they froze together, holding tightly onto each other. And when the Valkyrie was found in 2012, that’s how they were discovered.
When Steve woke in the poorly disguised hospital room, it didn’t actually matter. Because Bucky was in the bed with him, still clinging onto him for dear life. It wasn’t exactly the same as when they’d gone down though, and Steve saw another bed in the room. Bucky must’ve woken first and crawled in bed with him.
“Hey beautiful.” Steve whispered, and Bucky looked up with red rimmed eyes.
“Stevie? Thank God, you’ve been so still.” Bucky clutched at him tighter, but Steve returned the gesture. He didn’t know what was happening, but he didn’t want to ever let his love go.
“Where are we?”
“I dunno.” Bucky mumbled, looking up again. He seemed a little more composed, but was in no hurry to move. “I just woke up a little before you.”
“We’ll find out soon. No matter what’s going on, we’ll figure this out.”
“I love you Steve.”
“I love you too Buck.”
The I love you’s were said in case they never got to say them again. They had no idea what was waiting for them.
When they were debriefed on everything that had happened-only they could’ve gotten frozen for 70 years-all Steve could think was one thing.
This was their second chance.