Confidence and Assurance

February 02, 2017:

Ashamed to face his friend, Bucky has not tried to look for Steve, but Steve has looked for him.

Coney Island, New York


NPCs: None.



Mood Music: [*\# None.]

Fade In…

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for, and assurance about what we do not see. — Hebrews 11:1

It's been a few days since the rescue of James and Jane reached the climatic conclusion.

For Steve, it felt like a hot New York Minute which the cold air of the season is unable to chill. The war hero has looked into the location of the Winter Soldier, his appearances brief and difficult to track. While Bucky is just as much a man out of time as Steve, he certainly has adapted far better than Rogers has. But Steve has always been a man of tradition and ritual. Just as he is right now.

When given The Choice, there was a bench at Coney Island that Steve was asked to meet his old friend. And roughly two to three times a week, he goes there still. Every time, he brings two thermos mugs of coffee and appropriate coffee food. One mug barely coffee with how much milk is in it, Steve's cup, to be precise. Bucky's is prepared just the way he liked it, which pairs well with the snack, also of Bucky's choice. It's unknown how long he waits, maybe it's minutes, maybe an hour. When the time is up, the war hero gets up and goes home. There is usually someone in need on the way and by now, there are some homeless people who are there like clockwork to take the free hot meal and drink, the thermos mugs rarely returning. But Rogers doesn't mind that or even the fact that the person he is waiting for may not even know he's there or wanting him to show. After all, with how long he thought Barnes was dead, it's easy for Cap to get into the ritual of paying respects.

It's unknown if this is the fifth time or the fifteenth time, but the Man with the Plan is still here on the bench, waiting in causal clothes that seem just as standard as his uniform: leather jacket, polo shirt, jeans. One arm arches over the back of the bench as he just watches the horizon, his blue eyes lost in thought.

Part of the process of waking from a seventy-year nightmare is revisiting old, familiar places to regain some sense of grounding. In the days since that awful night deep in the underground Hydra base, Bucky has avoided most human contact in favor of walking New York City alone, simply observing the ways it has changed— or stayed the same. He's only consistently spoken with Jane in all that time, spending his nights hidden in her apartment, trying to bring himself to want to face anyone.

The hardest to convince himself to face was Steve.

In honesty, he was not expecting to find Steve so readily. He'd figured Steve had things to do; he'd figured Steve wanted nothing more to do with him; he'd figured Steve wanted time to himself, as well. But Coney Island was one of the first places Bucky went— it is one of the places that has changed least, over the years— and there he saw Steve, waiting on the bench.

He panicked and fled.

Bucky returned a second time, another day, and saw Steve there again. He knew now that his friend was waiting. But he still could not bring himself to approach. He fled again. He went home and did not tell Jane. He knew she would push him to approach, lecture him about why he ran twice.

Bucky even thinks about never approaching, letting Steve give up on a best friend who is no longer worth the company. But he knows Steve. He knows Steve will never give up, and it breaks his heart to watch his friend wait in vain.

Such it is that finally, one quiet evening, the quiet sound of steps approaches from behind the bench. They circle around, and the familiar-but-changed figure of James Barnes quietly takes a seat beside his friend. Not too far— not too close.

"I knew you'd sit out here forever if I didn't show," he says, after a long silence. "Catch a damn cold."

"Compared to Berlin this time of year, this place is kinda balmy," Rogers admits with his eyes looking forward. A soft smile plays on his lips, but he doesn't really break the calm conversation tone. Like trying to coax a wild animal, Steve is patient with how he acts and talks. He understands all too well that with everything that has gone on, this conversation maybe going to be loaded with emotional landmines. And Bucky's been a causality of his mistakes far too many times to wish to do so again.

"And it wasn't forever, just a few hours. Enough to clear my head. I'd ride the coaster, but it cause ten dollars to ride. Once. They don't even let you ride it twice if there isn't a line. It's just highway robbery," Steve replies, shaking his head at the shame of a nation. "Maybe I'll take some people go to Six Flags. According to the ads, more flags mean more fun." A shrug is given by Rogers, as if unsure if such a claim is true. He does love the America Flag, so who knows?

"You know what I meant," Bucky replies. "It's only a couple hours each time, but you'd keep coming out here til the cows came home if I didn't show." It's amazing how easily he slips back into that familiar camaraderie with Steve: amazing and a little frightening. He feels like he should feel more different. He feels like he should feel more ashamed, more like a failure, more worthless— feels like this should be more awkward— but something about being around Steve is just calming. Steve Rogers is just not a presence that promotes any sort of turmoil. Rather, the opposite.

"Besides," he notes, after a pause, "eventually you'd get on the coaster, even though last time you got on it you threw up, and you'd be out ten dollars. Seriously? It was a quarter last I checked."

He glances away. Steve speaks of Six Flags. Bucky exchanges a look and a shrug with him, not having any more clue what that means than Steve does. What even is Six Flags? Are there six American flags involved? You can't go wrong with that.

There is another silence, longer. The weight of seventy years settles back on Bucky's shoulders: seventy years of pain and misery. His mind fills with passing recollections of the heinous things he's done. The most recent of which were the horrible things he said to his own brother. The tension twists in the air until finally he draws breath and starts, "Steve, what I said—"

A chuckle is given with a "I suppose so" to Bucky's words, letting the conversation with coasters die down into silence. Still without looking, Rogers lets the space between words grow, the smile fading as he realizes what is coming. Finally, Bucky speaks.

The normal impulse from the usual American friend is to interrupt. The words 'it wasn't you' collect in Rogers throat, attempting to ram past intentional reserve. They are swallowed down, the gulp almost heard in the winter air. When it comes to the difficult things, Rogers almost never runs from them. Or at least he tries his best to be brave in the midst of them.

Instead of cutting Barnes off even with a 'hrm?', Steve turns to him, his brow slightly arched and his face carefully held in a way that seemed like he was waiting for baseball scores rather than anything with even a grain of emotional intensity. The only thing that betrays Rogers' true feelings are the eyes, the shocking blues that illuminate an overpowering concern.

Most people would interrupt. Perhaps Bucky was even expecting Steve to do so. But he should know better. Steve was never as impetuous— or rude— as that. Steve would hear you out until the very end of what you had to say.

Unfortunately, Bucky had not really prepared for the end of what he had to say.

He chokes and falls silent. Steve turns to face him, and he looks away, his gaze falling to the pavement. He cannot look that concern in the eyes right now.

"I didn't mean it," he says, and it sounds too childish for what he wants to convey, but he cannot think of anything else. "I never… you did what you had to do. We both knew what was more important than either of us."

He still can't meet Steve's eyes. "I never did anything because I wanted you to owe me. You don't owe me anything. And I wish to God I still was that person you said I was."

A sigh is given as Bucky swiftly averts his eyes, having pressed too far, too swiftly, it seems. Rogers changes his gaze as well, moving it back toward the horizon once more. The silence is allowed to grow, but Steve, a man perhaps used to being alone from his time as a child, seems at peace in it. But as Barnes knows, he seems skilled at being the eye of the storm. "There's nothing to forgive, Bucky I mean, what you went through was inhuman," he notes, his tone matter-of-fact. "How can I expect you to be accountable for your actions when people stole your freedom? How can I expect to blame you for what you did when I was the one that asked you to be on that train? If you're fine with the actions I made that led to this moment, then I'm fine with who you are now."

Steve doesn't argue that Bucky is still the same Barnes deep inside. He's seen how war changes people. The first time they kill, the first time they are almost killed. Trauma is a dangerous thing, altering in ways seen and unseen all that it touches. And Bucky definitely has been firm its grasp too long to come out unscathed.

But Steve will merely be a friend to this changed Bucky too.

A hand moves slowly toward the steel mug as Cap takes a drink from it to warm his throat. "If you need time to figure yourself out, then take it," he strongly advises. "If you want to stay at my place and lay low, then it's open to you. This is gunna be real tough, but I have faith in you. Always have." After all this talking, he finally decides to venture another look as he gives his word on something, as such things are important to Rogers. "And if you need my help, know that it's always there."

"Don't start blaming yourself, Steve," Bucky says, his voice taut like hearing Steve arrogate any sort of blame to himself is the last thing he can bear right now. His expression already twists briefly into knots at Steve's quiet remark of how inhuman his past seventy years have been. "I chose to be on that train with you. I chose to follow you."

For lack of knowing what else to do, Bucky takes the mug and turns it over and over in his hands. He eventually opens it, takes a sip, and the way Steve remembered how he prefers his coffee threatens his composure. His features tremble before he steels them, his eyes closing. They stay closed as Steve offers him his time and space, his home, his faith. His help, if it's ever needed. As always. His head bows under the weight of this untarnished friendship, at a loss how to parse it without a sense of being in incredible debt.

"I'd say I'll be fine on my own," he eventually says, "but I didn't let you get away with that when you were the one saying it."

A few moments of silence pass. "I don't know that I'm that worth it," he eventually sighs. "After the things I have done. They'll catch up to me sooner or later, I know. I've left too many without their loved ones for that not to happen." His brows knot in mingled pain and shame. He did not want to admit that in front of Steve.

His eyes open slowly. "I have… things to sort out. I don't know if I'm truly… safe to be around, yet. But I won't be far if you need me, either. I'm with you. That's one thing I don't intend to change."

As a causal glance shows that the coffee gets a rather unexpected response, Rogers takes in a breath. This is going to be slow, but it can happen. He's sure that he can have Bucky Barnes enjoying his life again. But little surprise, it seems as if Captain America runs on pure hope.

"You're a good man who got a bad hand, Bucky," concludes Rogers. "If you can't see it yourself, if you can't believe me, just trust in the people who worked so hard to save you to see you're 'worth it'. I wouldn't have even know what happened if it wasn't for a lot of people who knew you were a great person, that you /are/ a great person, and got me so I could help. Life will catch up to you, sure, but I'll do everything I can to make sure it doesn't sucker punch you and that you don't take it alone."

While Bucky might not know it, Rogers has already begun to meet with SHIELD agents and gotten his trusted secretary Melodie to look up trusted lawyers in both national and international law. Getting Bucky cleared locally might be a feasible feat. After all, Bucky's a war hero and Cap has a lot of sway in the US of A. In other places, like China, Russia, or other less Captain America friendly locations, locations looking for a reason to turn the knife to a 'True American' hero . Things might be more complicated.

Slowly, Rogers gets up, sensing that if he doesn't call it soon, it will overwhelm his friend. Bucky showed up, was willing to talk, and was willing to remain in Rogers' life. That's a solid enough win to call for a tactical retreat. "Take your time, I'm sure if you want, you'll be having my back like the old days. If you're worried about being unsafe, just let me know so we can make sure you can just focus on getting better. Whatever you need from me, Bucky, consider it yours. It was good seeing you." Being the tactile guy that he is, Rogers moves over, attempting to rest his hand on Bucky's shoulder to give it a firm squeeze, almost to the point of being painful.

Regardless of his reaction (unless for some reason Bucky tries to kill him), Steve will just start making his way toward the exit, clearly planning on making his way home by foot.

There is hope. There is hope in the way Steve can slowly see Bucky Barnes coming back to him, familiar behaviors and words emerging from the mire of seventy years of suffering and murder. His recognition of the coffee is such a small thing, but it's undeniable proof that he wasn't lost. He was never lost. He was just suppressed, waiting to be freed and rediscovered.

He's still who he was underneath. no matter what he himself thinks.

Steve speaks with typical self-effacement and humility, attributing the credit for the recovery of James Barnes to those who recognized him for who he truly was, and wished to help him. Bucky cocks an eye like he doesn't believe how demurring Steve is being about it, but at the same time he cannot doubt that the many others who came to help also cared. It would feel too much like a dismissal… a disservice. He cannot sort enough of himself out yet to say whether he agrees that he is still a good man, but he can say this much: "I am grateful to all of them, though I don't know how they managed to see anything past what I— what I was," he murmurs. "I don't know how I will face or repay them."

But he must.

Unaware that Steve has already begun to quietly do what he can to mitigate the damage the Winter Soldier has done to his friend's reputation, Bucky eventually rises, just about the same time Steve senses things might be getting too much at once for his friend. After all these years, these two men still know one another down to their very atoms. His expression closes when Steve speaks gently of him taking his time, that someday they might get back to fighting together as in the old days. That whatever he needs, Steve will give. Bucky carried Steve, so many times, when Steve could not walk. It seems it is time for Steve to return the kindness. "I… appreciate it," he says, though the paltry words do not seem sufficient to encapsulate what he feels, hearing such total forgiveness.

He feels Steve draw close, a hand clapped to his shoulder. He accepts the gesture at first, unmoving… before turning, stepping close, and clasping his friend in a brief embrace, his hand crossing to clap Steve in turn on the shoulder. He only uses his right arm, perhaps fearing and distrusting his left. There is a wordless sort of pact to the gesture, a reestablishment of the kind of brotherhood that bore two men through a harsh and difficult life.

Then he pulls back quickly, fearful of his own mind— that it may betray him at this critical moment, have him black out and try to kill his best friend. "I won't be far," he reiterates quietly, before he turns to walk away in turn.

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