"I can't let it alone, Buck. I couldn't before, and I definitely can't now."
US Army Base - Italy
The Army base was practically bustling, loud with the sounds of makeshift tents being raised and the chatter of recently rescued soldiers. It combined into a happy ruckus that only sobered once one got closer to the medic tents. It had been a three day hike back to base; the most wounded and weak had ridden on tanks stolen from the HYDRA factory. Even with medical help, Bucky knew some of them wouldn't make it.
That was only one of the things he stewed over, sitting inside his own tent. He'd been cleared from medical after a quick check up--all four limbs, could still walk, wasn't bleeding--and he didn't see Steve when he left. Bucky only guessed that he was getting chewed out by Phillips, no matter what the old man had said. He turned down various offers to sit down, talk, have a drink, while figuring out where he was bunking for the time being. To say he wasn't in a celebratory mood was an understatement. By the time Bucky sat on his cot, with a twisted stomach and twitching fingers, the only person he wanted to see was Steve. So he could punch him in his stupid face.
Being ever so obligingly, Steve shortly pokes said stupid face in through the tent flap. "You alive in there, Buck?" He doesn't wait for an answer, but steps inside. He doffs his helmet and sets it down beside his shield before taking a seat beside his friend. Doesn't say anything, at first. Then, "S.S.R. -- the folks who ran the project that made me...this way -- want me in London for a full debrief. You should come with me."
The small silence between Steve sitting down beside him and speaking lasts long enough for a multitude of things to flash through Bucky's mind. How the cot sinks from Steve's weight so much more than it once would have; how he has to tilt his head up, just a bit, to look at an achingly familiar-but-not profile on a completely unfamiliar body. Almost violently, he's thrown into the past, hearing a smaller Steve have the gall, actually have the goddamned nerve to tell Bucky that he was taking all of the stupid with him.
No, he left all one hundred pounds of his stupid stateside, thank you very fucking much, and look what happened.
"Go with you," he parrots, blank with anger. Not that he expects it to penetrate Steve's thick skull. Not Mr. Steven 'I'm Big Now, Let Me Run Into A HYDRA Factory With No Fucking Back-Up' Grant Rogers.
Steve forges on, though he's maybe not entirely oblivious, judging by the calculating glance of his pale blue eyes. "Yeah. You should get checked over at a real hospital, after what you've been through. Probably some of the other guys, too." He pauses, bracing his elbows on his knees so Bucky no longer has to look up at him. "But they said you were in there a while. With those..." His face twists with disgust. "...doctors?"
Bucky jerks, not exactly flinching but absolutely looking away from Steve. With the three day march, he had been able to keep from thinking about it. Keep moving, even when they stopped for the night. Check on the men. Keep spirits up. Don't yell at Steve for the many, many reasons he's given to be yelled at, because the last thing any of the guys needed was to see their savior 'Captain America' (Jesus Christ, what kinda fucking name.) be dressed down by a Sergeant.
Now, the anger at Steve, familiar and almost comfortable, is all he has to hold on to. If he loses that, who knows what will happen. "Don't know how long they had me," he says, eventually, voice stiff. "Sure as hell wasn't like any doctor I've been to before."
Steve lowers his eyes, too. "I wish I'd gotten you out earlier. All of you." His jaw sets hard, and it's a few seconds before he speaks again. "There's other camps out there. Like that one, and some worse." He glances back up at his friend. "I can't let it alone, Buck. I couldn't before, and I definitely can't now."
He knows that already. Knows Steve too well to expect any different. And just like that, the rage Bucky was barely hanging onto slips through his fingers, leaving him slumped and tired. "Of course you can't," he says, but it's more sigh than words, no sting behind them. Rubbing a hand through his hair and over his face, he grimaces at the feel of grime and stubble, finds himself staring at the discarded shield when he lets his hand drop back into his lap. "When do we leave for London?"
Steve's smile is thin, but the arm that he slings around Bucky's shoulder is strong and sure. There is an odd care in him now when he pulls his friend into a hug, as if worried he might hurt the other -- smaller, now! -- man. "Whenever you're ready."