Bucky drew the line at showing off the arm. He wouldn't do it. Steve wasn't about to force him.
Eventually they allowed the captain to photograph the metal hand, flat on the table only, and placated her with file photos of the Winter Soldier's arm in action. She soon left to type up her report, promising to let them know when she had more information.
Bucky looked like he needed a stiff drink. Too bad neither of them could get drunk...
"I'm sorry." Steve flopped down onto the ugly floral couch that had come with the apartment. That could've gone better…
"Not your fault." Bucky dropped down next to him with a bottle of gin and two glasses. He knew he couldn't get drunk, but could damn well try. "I just… I don't like showing it off like it's some great new toy. That thing's killed a lot of people." He filled the glasses and passed one to Steve, who barely glanced at it.
"No I don't mean that. I mean… for all of it. That any of this happened to you."
"They tortured you and I wasn't there. They ripped you apart so they could rebuild you and I wasn't there. I let you down big time."
Bucky knocked back his glass and refilled it. At least he could pretend it was helping.
"Geeze, you big drama-queen, we're on… what, the third time you saved my life? It's actually a little embarrassing that I keep needing it. You want me to start wearing "Damsel in Distress" on my shirt?"
"I'm serious, Buck…"
Ah, there it was. The face that said "I have to save the world, even if it kills me." That face had haunted him for months not so long ago.
"So am I. I should've been dead when the 107th went down, but because of you, I came back alive. When I followed you onto that train, I knew what I was doing. I followed the little guy from Brooklyn and he never steered me wrong."
"He dropped you off a train and down a mountain." Steve deadpanned, setting his glass aside, untouched.
"No, Zola dropped me off a train. What were you gonna do at that point, Steve? Fly? Jump off after me? Yeah, that would've gone great. Then either you'd just be dead or there'd be two brainwashed killer zombies running around instead of just me."
"I should've gone down there and found you before they did. I shouldn't have assumed. If I had-"
"Steve, for god's sake, listen to yourself!"
Bucky was on his feet, frustrated, irritated, and protective. Why was Steve's worst enemy always himself?
"You were gonna backtrack through a whole mountain valley, 300 feet down, with no way to know where I landed - if there was even enough'a me left to find in the first place - in a warzone, when the entire world was depending on you to stop Schmidt? You'd really give up on everything else, all those people, just to go scrape a Bucky shaped splat off the side of a mountain?"
"If I had, none of this would have happened."
Steve always had been stubborn.
"No...I know you better than that. When it came down to me or the world, you picked the world, buddy. I was there. I remember. You made the right choice."
"Yeah, well, I'm not very proud of what I had to do to get past you."
"I am." Bucky laughed and ruffled Steve's hair as Steve pushed his hand away. He was determined to force his friend out of these stupid, self-destructive thoughts. "You kicked my ass, kid! I never knew you had that in ya' "
"Yeah, well, me either."
"Steve, look at me. No, I mean it, look at me. Right here." He reached out and swiveled Steve's face to him. He held out the arm between them. It whirred faintly in the silence.
"I hate this thing. I hate everything about it. But if I had to choose between everything that happened to me - every sick thing they made me do… and knowing that my safety stopped you from doing the right thing… I'd walk right back into HYDRA and sign up for another tour."
Steve stared at him.
"You're a good kid, Steve, you always were. You always put everybody ahead of yourself. Don't put me ahead of everybody else. That's not who you are, and if anybody's gonna mess that up for you, I don't want it to be me.
... Oh shit... Are you crying?"
"You're a jerk, Bucky." Steve laughed, even as his eyes filled with tears.
"And you're a punk. C'mere."
Just like when they were kids, he threw his arm around Steve's shoulder and pulled him in for a rough hug. That the arm happened be made of metal, and weigh about 50 pounds now was inconsequential. They were a team again, and that was what mattered.