Title: Red Thread Of Redemption
Fandom: Captain America - TWS, The Avengers (MCU)
Pairing: Steve Rogers/Bucky Barnes
Disclaimer: I do not own them, they own me. No money made, no harm intended.
Summary: There were better days and there were the ones Steve would rather not remember, from anger and aggression to fear and confusion, but right now Bucky just looks… gone.
Warning: mental health issues, angst and feels
Word count: 1380
A/N: For Delanach, who guessed all three events in And You Will Know My Name. Their prompt was 'Steve/Bucky, no regrets'. This is what happened.
Steve wakes up to the merry tune of the 'Star Spangled Man' and makes a mental note to have a few words with Clint the next time they meet. It's barely three in the morning and it's Bruce Banner calling him, which can mean only one thing.
"Doctor?" he picks up, a weight settling in his stomach.
"Steve, I think you should come down here," Banner's voice on the other end is kind but weary, and Steve is halfway through the door by the time he hangs up.
Even at this hour, there are guards about at the new S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ, but if any of them has a comment to make about him rushing along the corridors barefoot in his nightwear, they wisely keep it to themselves.
As much as Steve would've liked, Fury flat out refused to release Bucky into his custody to be housed at Steve's floor in the Avengers Tower. At first it was about ongoing renovation at the Tower, then about having proper medical care at hand, and then it was about security and not giving the enemy a chance to wipe out their entire team all at once.
Then one night Bucky woke up screaming and brought down the guards and an entire S.H.I.E.L.D. unit before Steve arrived. The deal was immediately off the table of course, landing Bucky in the extra secure cell B23 and Steve in a storeroom hastily converted to house him some ten stories above. It seemed too vast a distance then, and definitely does right now, when he has no idea what to expect.
Finally the elevator doors open with a metallic sound, allowing him into the secure block, all of it deep underground and accessible solely to a handpicked few. To S.H.I.E.L.D.'s credit, they at least made an effort with the furnishings, making it look more like an old-fashioned nursing home instead of a maximum security asylum for ex-HYDRA agents.
"Steve." Bruce smiles at him across the corridor, looking every bit like he fell asleep at his desk fully dressed, which is probably just what happened. Steve cannot help but smile back.
"Dr. Banner. What is it?"
Bruce shrugs, falling in step beside him. "Wish I knew. I was hoping you could help."
B23 is not far, and when Steve finally gets a look through the bulletproof glass, his heart sinks. In all his time here, he's never seen Bucky like this. There were better days and there were the ones Steve would rather not remember, from anger and aggression to fear and confusion, but right now Bucky just looks… gone.
He is huddled in the far corner, half-hidden by the bed, curled up so he is the smallest he can be, staring unseeing at the opposite wall. His face is deathly pale and ashen, his eyes are wide and vulnerable. There are four deep lines scratched into the wall beside the bed, and Steve's breath catches a little when he realizes they are from the metal hand.
"Did he say something?" He forces himself to focus on the problem, on helping Bucky. It's easier that way. But it always feels selfish.
"Not a word." Bruce rubs a hand across his face.
Steve feels a stab of guilt for enjoying some sleep upstairs while Bruce was stretching his limits trying to find some way to help Bucky. He makes a mental note to check on the good doctor more often, and lock him out of the lab if need be.
Right now, Bucky comes first, though.
"Open it," he says, and the door panel slides out of place with a small mechanical whirl.
"Be careful." Bruce advises dutifully, even though he knows in this one thing Steve will never listen to him. Still, the sentiment is nice.
"Bucky," Steve calls softly as the door locks closed behind him.
He gets no reaction whatsoever.
He crosses the room in sheer panicked worry before he could even consider if that's wise. Natasha would likely punch him in the face for being so careless - and rightly so -, but fortunately she is not here to witness it.
"Buck?" he tries again, sharper with concern this time, and though Bucky still doesn't move, a single tear rolls down his cheek. Steve kneels down next to him, close, but careful not to crowd him. He wants to reach for Bucky but it is too early yet. It might do more harm than good, it's hard to tell. "What happened?"
"I fell," Bucky says, and the very marrow in Steve's bones turns to ice.
He has told Bucky, many times, how the war ended for them, but he has always dreaded the day Bucky would remember. Because no matter how hard people around him try, Steve is painfully aware that knowing something and living it are very different things.
Now that it's happening, he doesn't know what to say. Everything he planned on telling Bucky is wedged frozen somewhere deep inside his chest.
Bucky finally shifts, as if waking from a spell, and his eyes fill up with wonder as their gaze meets. "Steve?" he asks with disbelief, and in this moment he is so wrecked and so Bucky.
"Yes." Steve puts a tentative hand on Bucky's shoulder, forcing a weak, wobbly smile.
"They said you wouldn't come. They said you were dead," Bucky shudders, his voice trembling, and if Steve feels like his chest is filled with ice, his throat is surely drawn tight with barbed wire.
"I'm here, Buck. I'm here," he murmurs, because it sure beats telling him that they were right, that he was left alone to be the plaything of their whims while he was dead to the world. While they both were.
It is true enough. For now.
"You are alive," Bucky whispers, his eyes closed and his body heaving with silent sobs. Like he dares not cry loudly. The thought makes Steve's jaws clench. His hand slides absently to trace soothing lines along Bucky's back, and he feels even more ashamed for how good it feels even as it pains him, how much breathing Bucky in always feels like home. How he wishes that he could hold Bucky like this whenever he hurts, whenever Steve wakes up from the nightmare of seeing him fall away again.
"It's all my fault." The words rush out his mouth in a breathless confession. Because Bucky deserves to know it, and Steve deserves that Bucky pass judgement on him. "I shouldn't have dragged you back. I should have never sent you on that train. You trusted me and I… I failed you, I didn't--"
"No," Bucky interrupts, and it's so quiet Steve has to strain his ears to hear it. "I went because I-- because it was right. It was right." Bucky repeats, and his grip on Steve's hand is bone-breaking and desperate. "And I wanted. For you."
"Buck…" Steve tries, but there are no words for what he feels, the whirlwind of emotions that he has kept inside for too long and it's threatening to rise and suffocate him. He remembers Peggy's words, and how he wishes she had been right, that she were here to reassure him once again that Bucky deserved his own choice.
A choice that put him through hell. Because Steve asked him to.
Alone. Left behind.
"I'm so sorry," he says, and it's so little so late.
"Can we go home now, Steve? I want to go home," Bucky breathes, and Steve would give everything in the world to make it so.
It should've been him. To take the fall, to be erased. Not Bucky. Never Bucky.
"We'll go home." He holds Bucky tighter, choking on each breath, on the words left unsaid. But he has to be strong. Now more than ever. Because winning a war is never enough. He knows that now. "You just need to get better, okay? So we can go home."
Bucky manages a jerky nod, and Steve keeps stroking his back, his dark hair long after Bucky's breathing eases into the soft, slow pattern of his troubled sleep. It is when he finally cries, quiet, gasping breaths melding with disconnected words muttered in Russian.
This entry was originally posted at http://sphinxofthenile.dreamwidth.org/157743.html.