|Bucky's metal arm and Steve's shield|
Three exits—the front door, the back door, and one on the side. Four security cameras, mounted in each corner of the station. A television on mute, cycling through clips of the bombing in Vienna. The employee behind the desk was dragging a French fry through a glob of congealed cheese, using it to draw aimless patterns on the foam plate. Somewhere nearby, a fly buzzed against a windowpane.
Sam picked up a bobbling figurine from the nearest shelf. It was a little man with an oversized head, painted in what seemed to be a replication of Tony’s Iron Man suit. Steve eyed the figure in Sam’s hand as he examined it.
“Yeah,” Sam said, holding it up for Steve to see. “Big head and an awful paint job. Seems about right.”
Steve started to reply but noticed Bucky tucking his chin lower against his chest behind Sam as the gas station owner glanced their way. The baseball cap concealed most of his hair, but there wasn’t much he could do about his face—if someone looked too long, even for a second, their cover would be blown. And the last thing Steve wanted was another fight.
“You go ahead, Sam. We’ll be here.”
Sam put the Iron Man figurine back on the shelf. He pulled out a five dollar bill and handed it to Steve. “Grab me some nachos or something. I’m getting real tired of those peanuts you bought last time. Nuts, man—what are we, squirrels? Get me some real food!”
“Sure.” Steve held onto the bill as Sam left them in search of the bathroom. Honestly, he didn’t understand people’s obsession with greasy chips slathered in cheese that tasted like plastic. Or why they loved food doused in chemicals. Most of the food in the gas station looked like it had been cranked out of a factory, not harvested from the dirt.
Bucky picked up a package of Pop-tarts and frowned down at it. “What is this?” he wondered aloud. A scan of the ingredients list didn’t seem to clear his confusion.
Steve smiled faintly. “Progress. Or so Natasha tells me.”
He put the package down again and shifted the backpack slung over his shoulder. The hoodie concealed his metal arm from view, but Steve caught a glimpse when Bucky adjusted his bag. His friend wandered over to the magazine section, the baseball cap hiding his eyes as he reached out to pick up a National Geographic issue. The title read, “The Greatest Generation: Stellar Soldiers or Secret Spies?” A HYDRA symbol loomed behind the four soldiers featured on the cover, and one of their faces had been morphed into a leering red skull. Bucky held the magazine in his hands for a moment, then clenched his jaw and put it back.
“They don’t have any idea,” he murmured. “About anything.”
Steve paused and stepped a little closer when the owner flipped the channel to a news update detailing efforts to locate the Winter Soldier. Bucky hadn’t noticed yet.
“No,” he agreed. “There’s a lot of things they got wrong. But they do the best they can with the information they have.”
Bucky looked directly at him for the first time since they got in the car six hours ago. The corners of his eyes crinkled, just slightly. “They don’t care about the truth. They just want a story that sells.” He stared at the magazine again.
“Just because they got it wrong doesn’t mean their hearts weren’t in the right place,” Steve answered. Nodding at the magazine, he added, “Who knows. Maybe they did their research. Plenty of guys took the wrong path. Sometimes it’s easier. It’s harder to stand and fight for what’s right … especially if you’re the only one left standing.”
Bucky scoffed. “You have too much faith in people.”
“Or maybe I’ve been putting my faith in the wrong people. I don’t really know anymore.” His friend glanced over again, and this time Steve held his gaze. “Tony’s heart is in the right place, Buck. He wants to take responsibility for the damage we’ve done. I respect that. But I also think he’s going about it the wrong way. Having the government breathing down our necks, telling us who we can fight, who we can’t: that’s not freedom. What happens when they make the wrong call? How many people have to die so they can pull our strings? What makes them any more qualified to make those calls, anyway? The Sokovia Accords have barely been signed, and they’re already getting it wrong—I know you didn’t bomb that building in Vienna.”
His friend looked down again, a muscle jerking in his cheek.
“Sooner or later, everybody’s gonna know you’re innocent. But until then, we’ve gotta keep moving.”
“Yeah, and where are we gonna go, Steve? Back to Brooklyn? Back home? There’s nothing left. We’re the only ones left. Everybody else is dead.”
Steve clasped Bucky’s shoulder. “I’m not going anywhere, Buck. I’m with you ‘til the end of the line. Whatever happens … no matter who comes after you … you can count on me.”
Bucky’s face relaxed, and he nodded. Reaching over to grab something from the nearest shelf, he held up the Pop-tarts he’d pointed out earlier. “Well, then,” he said with a small smile, “you’re buying.”
He smiled back and took the package. As Steve walked over to the register to pay, the station owner stuffed another cheese-coated fry into his mouth and gestured for the money. Steve handed it over, along with the Pop-tarts and Sam’s nachos. His eyes drifted up to the television as the man rang up his purchase—the imposter’s face was blown up on screen, and Steve couldn’t deny he resembled Bucky. But that wasn’t his friend up there. That wasn’t the friend who used to buy hot dogs with him at the summer fairs and talked about girls and dreamed of fighting for his country when he was old enough to enlist. That man up there, whoever he was, would be caught, and he would face justice for what he’d done. It was only a matter of convincing the right people that Bucky wasn’t the bomber.
Namely, Tony, Natasha, Rhodey, Vision, and T’Challa.
Steve took the plastic bag offered to him by the man behind the counter. “Thanks.”
“Hey, you look familiar. I know you from somewhere?”
“No,” Steve replied, forcing a smile. “I’m just passing through. You have a good day.”
He turned away and rejoined Bucky. Keeping his voice low enough that only his friend could hear, he said, “Head back to the car, just in case. Here.”
Bucky took the bag and adjusted his cap, then nodded at him and left the gas station. He was walking a little faster than normal—Steve hoped the man behind the counter didn’t notice. No, his eyes were still fixed on Steve. He looked away. Sam should be out by now.
Sighing to himself, he watched Bucky walk for the car, the bag clenched in his fist. A car drove past but didn’t slow down or stop as it rolled by his friend. Bucky checked both ways and crossed to the little car, and only when he was safely inside did Steve look away.
It was then that he realized he’d do just about anything to protect Bucky.
The thought plagued him long after they hit the road again. Steve was putting his life on the line, his reputation, everything he’d ever professed to believe and care about—just to prove that Bucky was innocent. It was bigger than that, of course. There was still the matter of the Sokovia Accords. But at the heart of it all …
Steve glanced into the rearview mirror an hour or two after the sun set. Sam was asleep in the passenger seat, but Bucky was still awake. He was staring out the window, baseball cap shadowing his eyes. Even in the car, he wouldn’t take it off.
“How you holding up?” he asked, quietly so he wouldn’t wake Sam.
Bucky didn’t look away from the window. Steve wasn’t even sure he heard him. After a moment’s pause, he prompted, “Buck?”
“I never got to say goodbye to her. She was a kid last time I saw her. So was I.”
Steve barely remembered her himself; in fact, he couldn’t recall the last time he saw her. It must have been twenty years ago—or more. Even though he knew exactly who Bucky was talking about, he asked, “Rebecca?”
Bucky nodded once.
“Tell you what. When all this is over, we’ll find out what happened to her. Maybe she’s still alive.”
The ghost of a smile lifted Bucky’s lips. “She’s gotta be, what, a hundred years old by now?”
Steve chuckled back, relaxing his grip on the steering wheel. “So are we, pal.”
“Hey, Steve?” The smile was gone now.
He glanced into the rearview mirror again. Bucky met his eyes, then dropped his own again. Steve paused and said, “You’re welcome. Just don’t make me live to regret it, okay?”
He didn’t say anything.
“We’ll get through this, Buck. You and me. Just like old times. And when all of this is over, we can find you someplace safe. Nobody’s gonna force you to do anything you don’t want to do. Not on my watch.”
Bucky nodded and leaned his head back against the headrest, eyes aimed towards the window. The moonlight shone in patchy beams through the trees as they drove down the long, straight road, and the next time Steve looked back at his friend, Bucky was fast asleep.
For those of you who don't know, there is one comic universe in which Bucky has a sister named Rebecca. The MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) hasn't done anything with her, but the idea intrigues me. Hence, I mention her in this story.
And just for the record, I don't usually write fanfiction. But I do like trying to grasp other people's fictional characters and see how well I understand them by writing stories about them. I do it a lot with my own stories (especially The Rat Race). But I don't object to a fanfic every once in a while. M.F. and I had a lot of fun writing these! :D
Until next time, lovely people. Captain America: Civil War is now in theaters!