During their long walk back.

A short bit of something that sprung from this art by @kaciart that I just reblogged. I just have a lot of feelings about the equality of their friendship and how great it is. 

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It was thirty miles behind enemy lines, through some of the most heavily fortified territory in Europe. For soldiers who were fresh and fed it might have taken them nine hours at best. For these men, the raggedy allied collection of half-starved, unbathed, exhausted men, it looked like it might take twice that long.

The men who weren’t injured took turns shouldering the ones who were. Steve stayed out front and they ran a rotation of armed point men at each corner and along the flanks. Every armed man rotated except for Bucky, who stayed at Steve’s right hand, walking and walking and hungrily taking in the grey, weathered sky Steve knew he never thought he’d see again. He didn’t speak. He did glance at Steve out of the corner of his eye on occasion. It was both eerily familiar and unfamiliar. Their regular Sunday walk, except not. Bucky never said much on those either. 

On the top of the eighth hour Dugan, a strapping man with a mustache like that of a circus strong man Steve had seen once, caught up to his left side. “I think the men could use a rest,” he said. He nodded his head backwards and Steve checked over his shoulder to see that one of the men had been lifted bodily and was being carried flat by three others. All four of them looked like they might keel over at any minute. 

“Of course,” Steve said. He turned on his heel and walked backwards for ten feet before shouting down the line, “let’s take a break!" 

The men fell out almost immediately. Some of them sat down in the middle of the road and vainly licked at droplets of water that might still be in their stolen canteens. Some of them disappeared into the woods to piss or lay down on the grass for a few moments. A handful of the point men formed a cluster around Steve to discuss the best route going forward. He deferred to them entirely, not having pushed through the landscape in the first place. By the time Steve had the chance to turn and look for Bucky he was gone. 

It didn’t take Steve long to find him. He’d travelled up the road about twenty yards and disappeared into the foliage off to the right. (Always to the right.) Bucky was leaning against a scrubby tree trunk and flicking the scratched metal lighter he’d nabbed off Falsworth in his hands. Steve could hear it clicking regularly.

With his back to Steve, Bucky looked impossibly small. His shoulders were hunched inward, his spine curved forward like a fern, and he kept his elbows tight to his sides. The rifle slung across his back looked half his size at least. Steve couldn’t think of a time when Bucky had taken up less space than him. And more to the point, he couldn’t think of a time when Bucky had taken up less space than he absolutely had to. The Bucky who had left him was all bravado and pomp and wide armed protection. The Bucky he’d found was crumbling away a little bit at a time and Steve simply didn’t know what to do. He tried to run through the list of things Bucky did for him when he was feeling weak, but nothing seemed to fit. 

He coughed a warning, not wanting to get one of those rifle bullets in the gut, and approached Bucky. They stood side to side for a few moments before Steve could think of anything to say. 

"You’re going to waste all the fluid.”

Bucky clicked the lighter open and closed and open and closed. Sometimes it flamed and sometimes it merely sparked, leaving an uneven and unreadable Morse code in its dying fits. “It doesn’t matter. No one has any cigarettes anyway." 

"You don’t smoke,” Steve said.

“I didn’t,” Bucky returned. “I didn’t used to do a lot of things.”

A trickle of something warm started through Steve’s chest. He hadn’t allowed himself to stop and really think about how he’d found Bucky. The security of every one of those men depended on him being level headed. It was a thing he knew Bucky wouldn’t hold against him, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t affecting him. “Buck,” he tried.

It came out strangled, worn. He didn’t recognize his own voice. It was a dangerous feeling, because since the serum his voice was the only thing about himself that he could recognize reliably. It was the only part of him that still felt like him. 

“Don’t,” Bucky said. He licked his chapped lips with his dry tongue and his jaw tensed and untensed. “Don’t say anything. You can’t fix this. You don’t have to.”

“You would fix this for me, if it was the other way around." 

"That’s why I didn’t want you to come,” he snapped. Then he took a rattling breath and wiped his free hand down his dirty, red face. “These men are more important than me. Many of them are hurt worse than I am. Some of them are my men. Let’s just get them back. Then we can do the thing where we fight over who’s going to fix it.”

He stayed looking straight ahead into the woods, but he swayed away from the tree slightly and bumped into Steve’s side. Steve immediately reached out with that arm and wrapped it around Bucky’s shoulders, just the way Bucky had done for him after so many back alley fights. So many fights that suddenly didn’t mean anything at all in the face of the rest of the world. They’d all felt so personal, so important at the time. 

Bucky let his head drop to Steve’s shoulder. He took deep, shaking breaths. The warm trickle in Steve’s chest turned into a flood and he tried not to cry. It was so easy, out in the middle of a foreign land with his broken best friend, to feel like everything was lost and far away, to feel out to sea without a rope. The only person that kept him grounded, the only person that had ever kept him grounded, seemed ready to float away.

Bucky choked and his breath hitched. Steve reflexively wrapped his other arm around him and pulled him into his chest. He couldn’t see Bucky’s face, but he could hear the keening in the back of his throat as he tried not to lose it entirely. Steve had never, ever been able to be there like this for Bucky. He hoped that when they made it back–when not if–he could get a start on repaying all he owed. It could easily take him twice as long as the twenty years they’d already had together, but he was ready for that. He was ready to let Bucky lean on him for a hundred years if he could. If Bucky needed him to.

A series of whistles whipped through the forest, calling the men back to their ranks. It was time to get started again. Bucky pulled back, wiping his eyes with the back of his hands. Steve let him go. 

Bucky shoved the lighter into his pocket and took his rifle back into his hands. Steve’s hands ached sympathetically for the apparent weight of it. Not the gun, but all he knew it had done. Bucky stood for a moment, just taking Steve in. “Thank you,” he said. 

“I learned from the best,” Steve said. 

It was the closest Bucky got to a smile the entire march home.


Letchworth Village was a residential institution in New York that at its peak consisted of more than 130 buildings and over 4,000 inhabitants. While it was at first praised as a state-of-the-art institution, reports of abuse and maltreatment began to filter out. Irving Haberman took a set of photographs that exposed the true nature of the institution: It was severely overcrowded, the patients were often malnourished and sick, feces and other wastes littered the floors, and many patients were unclothed, unbathed, and altogether neglected. Patients were given medicine from the same spoon, and many who were fed by the staff ended up choking to death on what little food they received.

It wasn’t just the patients who suffered there; many staff members also reported being abused by co-workers, including accusations of rape.

Many patients are buried without names, and some believe they may still walk the halls: Those who have explored the abandoned and dilapidated buildings report a range of paranormal phenomena.