The Greatest Gift of All
(Inspired by^ for the people who asked :D hope it was worth the wait!)
Long before the war, before Captain America or the Winter Soldier, there was simply Bucky and Steve. At least, that's what history says. But they missed out one very important person, a girl called Y/N.
Women in those times often found themselves with little opportunity, and only two easily attainable pathways in life: wife and mother. But Y/N carved out a life for herself that defied all expectations, and it all started in Brooklyn.
She dived headlong into scuffles, usually next to Bucky in defence of Steve. Regardless of the opponent, Y/N stood by them both, and often held her own quite impressively.
Her dress style borrowed from more masculine cuts, and Y/N was never seen without her cap. A lot of people had a problem with this, but she shut them up fairly swiftly.
Everything about this girl drew Bucky in, a battle he fought with little effort. They reveled in each other, flaunting their love at every opportunity. More than a few were jealous that the rough and tumble girl got the best looking boy in town.
In a way, before even coming of age, they started an adult life together. The three of them moved into a flat. Y/N and Bucky took hard labour jobs, or anything they could get. They had little room to be picky.
Both managed to hook steady summer jobs at the local docks. They used most of their money to keep a roof over their heads, buy food, and pay for Steve's medical needs. He attended art school, and sold his work every now and then; but physically, he was in no condition to work.
The war appeared on the horizon, just as they started to pull themselves an inch above the poverty line. Y/N saw it coming, the inevitable. She treasured every second they spent together, and dreaded the day when the draft came.
A lot of the older women she worked with were disrespectful, looking down on her pre-marital relationship with Bucky. They claimed she couldn't possibly understand their grief, despite the fact Y/N had seen Bucky off at the docks that very morning.
In truth, they already planned on being married, but at the time, they simply didn't have the funds. Bucky promised, once the war ended, that ring would be on her finger.
Except, he never came home. Not properly. The person Hydra gave back to Y/N was damaged and jaded, angry at the world, angrier than she ever saw. But still, they loved each other. Though she never forgave them for stealing away his innocence, for trying to snuff out the light in his soul. A part of him would always belong to them, and she hated it.
Refusing to stay home while they risked their lives, never knowing, Y/N trained as an army nurse, working specially with the Howling Commandos unit.
Then one day, she went out to welcome them back from a mission. Every face looked devastated, but none more so than Steve. His eyes, red-raw and streaming, seemed incapable of rising from the ground. At first, the realisation didn't process, the idea simply incomprehensible. He promised.
Dugan was the one to finally break through and catch Y/N as she fell, holding her as the tears poured. Once he shook off his daze, Steve took his place, sharing in her grief.
Her world fell apart so quickly, with no warning and no mercy. Their commanders celebrated the capture of Arnim Zola, while Y/N and Steve sat, staring at an empty place at their side.
Everyone mourned Bucky, and swiftly after, began to mourn Y/N, too. The loss took a part of her...the sparkle, the happiness, the laugh that lit up her face. It all vanished. She worked hard, looked after them all, but only Steve was able to make her smile. Even then, it looked pained.
So when Steve went down with the plane, the very last shred of Y/N died with him. No tears left her eyes, no screams ripped up her throat. A cold numbness took over, freezing the woman from the inside out.
V-Day came and went. The Commandos stood and drank to their lost comrades, and Dugan silently drank another...for the loss of a bright, fiery girl who had virtually nothing to lose, and still lost everything.
She spent her days as a robot, doing nothing but going through the motions of badly imitating life. The flat was empty and quiet, yet somehow, bursting with the ghosts of her loved ones. Nightmares plagued her, terrible images of Bucky's body, forever trapped in a freezing hell, nothing but food for the birds. And Steve, his body...was it cast adrift in the ocean? Or destroyed, burnt to ash in the belly of a metal beast.
They were simple folk before the war turned them into soldiers, into weapons. Before symbols and flags stole away their names, driving them to sacrifice their lives for a greater cause.
Y/N knew their fight against Hydra was important...knew the honour behind their sacrifice. But when it's you left sitting at an empty dinner table, it's much easier to be angry and bitter.
She never married, never settled, bouncing around countries working as an army nurse. The Commandos slowly died around her, each one fading to grey as the curtain drew the show to a close. Each death, each funeral ripped open her wounds, bigger and deeper each time. Until eventually, Y/N let the blood flow freely.
Or at least, that's what would have happened. But one choice, one decision, made by a boy she thought dead in the far future, changed it all.
Bucky Barnes struggled to find himself again. His memories were mostly all returned, if a bit hazy and fragmented. He had Steve there to right any wrong recollections, and connect with on their shared experiences. But something always seemed to be missing, a piece of the jigsaw that hadn't been found.
He remembered Y/N. He remembered her clearer than anything. She was glowing like honey in the sun when Bucky closed his eyes and brought her back to mind.
Face covered in muck, hair tousled and streaked with grease from the boats, soot on the very tip of her nose and a cap perched jauntily on her head; wearing the deepest expression of concentration as she aimed a hanful of rotten fish guts at the sleezy Connell boy from Fifth, who decided his opinion on her backside mattered. The image shone crystal clear. Her laughter, rolling out from between curved lips, beautiful and full of mischief.
It never failed to make him smile. Or cry. Or sometimes, both. He missed Y/N than he thought possible for a human being.
Bucky often wondered about her life, whether she went on to marry, or maybe even have children. Was she happy? Did she bury him and move on? If they met today, would Y/N even recognise the man he was now?
More importantly, in his mind, something he both feared and longed to know: would she still love him?
Unbeknownst to Bucky, Steve saw all this. Understood, to a degree, his pain. But he and Peggy never got the chance to bond so strongly. He knew Bucky needed him, but Steve also knew he needed Y/N more.
So once his goodbyes were said, he looked one last time at Bucky, and smiled beneath his suit as he vanished into time.
The living room looked exactly the same as he remembered. Bucky's coat, slung over the back of the chair, his sketchbooks strewn around the desk. Every rip and chip. His heart swelled with nostalgia, and pain, thinking of the life they were supposed to have.
What must have been in their heads...running off to fight, so eager to throw everything away. And who was left to stare at empty beds and eat breakfast alone every morning? Y/N.
His chest constricted, hearing the keys in the door, the lock rattling three times before letting her in. His nerve faltered for the briefest second, wondering if he was ready to see her again.
"Who the hell are you?!"
Slowly, he turned, and watched as Y/N's eyes widened, all the bags in her hands falling to the floor with a crash.
"...Stevie?" The name came out as a whisper, nearly inaudible.
He grinned, laughing as tears stung his eyes. "Hey, spitfire. Long time no see."
"Steve!" She launched herself at him, arms wrapping around his neck and clinging on for dear life.
Catching her by the waist, he swung Y/N around, burying his face in her hair. They held onto one another as if they might vanish if they let go. But after a minute, Steve gently pushed her back.
"How? How are you here? What are you wearing? I don't understand, Steve, they said you died! Your plane went down in the ocean," she stammered, hand on his forearm with a grip like a vice.
"I survived. The serum kept me alive in the ice for seventy years," he said, questioning his own sanity momentarily; standing in the flat again made everything that happened seem like a distant dream.
Y/N frowned, brows knitting together. "What? Did you hit your head? Steve, this is 1945."
"I know, I came from 2023. I'm alive," he said, and saw her mentally backing away, so added, "I'm alive, and so is Bucky."
Her head snapped up, eyes immediately filling with tears. A dozen emotions whizzed through them in a second; disbelief, pain, hope. It shone clearly in her face as she stepped closer.
What did you say?" She asked, voice choked as she brought her shaking hands up to her mouth.
"Bucky's alive," he repeated softly, "and I can send you to him, in the future. But we don't have a lot of time. You need to listen to me, carefully, and do what I say."
She spluttered, struggling for words. "I, but...what about you?"
"I've made my decision," Steve said, and gently took her hands in his, "now, please, listen."
Bucky watched the machine, feeling a wave of numbness wash over his insides. Nothing was a better deal than the pain, the cruel sting of betrayal fighting to be felt. But he beat it back, unable to allow those thoughts validation.
Steve gave up so much for him, he fought for years to get him here. Steve deserved this. And no matter how wrong those words sounded in his head, he resolutely stood by them.
The seconds ticked by, noted by Bruce's countdown. A flash of guilt almost made Bucky explain what was going to happen, explain that Steve left them. Left him. But he possessed no energy to speak, they'd see in a second, when no one appeared-
Zap. A blinding flash of light.
There's someone there.
Bucky frowned, hands falling from his pockets. Did Steve change his mind? Did he...
All the thoughts in his head stopped as the figure stepped down. Too small, too lithe for it to be Steve. Bucky's heart rate quickened, something in his unconscious already registering his recognition.
The suit fell away, and if he weren't frozen in place, Bucky wouldn't have been standing. A quiver shot through him, nearly buckling his knees. Shock, fear and pure disbelief all delayed his reaction.
Y/N looked around, amazed, but turned to stone as she set eyes on him. Her face went utterly blank, a strangled sound leaving her lips.
Wearing her yard slacks, with a small bag on her shoulder, her face covered in dirt, hair streaked with grease, cap perched on-top, slanted to one side...she was everything he remembered, and his heart tried to leave his chest to go to her. To be whole again.
But fear held him back. She didn't know the things he'd done, the person he became after the train accident. What if-
"Who is she?" Sam asked, glaring as he stalked towards her, an accusation rising on his lips.
Bucky answered without hesitation, or thinking; the question had been asked countless times over the years. It always recieved the same reply. "My doll."
Sam stopped short, glancing between them, the way neither took their eyes off the other. He nodded, brows still closely knit, and backed off.
Slowly, Y/N approached, encouraged by the sound of his voice. She reached out carefully, when she got close enough. Trembling fingers brushed his cheek, and a shudder ran through her.
"My Bucky..." She said quietly, eyes roaming over his face, a small smile tugging at her lips, "...you're here, in front of me. Alive."
He swallowed dryly, heart thundering away beneath his skin. "I'm different...you don't know..."
No sooner had the words left his mouth that her eyes found the cold metal where his flesh used to be. In reaching to hold it, she'd been taken by surprise.
Gently, Y/N took the hand in her own, examing the limb with a careful gaze. Moments passed, and she met his eyes again. Bucky steeled himself for rejection, for the disgust and horror.
Her hand went back to his cheek, and he involuntairly leaned into it. The warmth seeped into his blood. She stood on her tip toes, the smile on her lips blossoming into a bright beam of sunlight. "You've always been my Bucky, and always will be. Metal appendages and all."
He fell apart and dove down to capture her lips, clutching her to him with the hunger of a starving man. She pulled herself in, hands tangling in his brown locks, and both tasted salt on the others' lips.
So filled with joy his heart could burst, Bucky revelled in the feeling of holding his girl again. Laughing through the tears, he buried his face in her neck.
Thank you, Steve, for the greatest gift of all.
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