None of that’s your fault, Steve.
#god his look of realization in the third gif#that he should’ve gone looking for him#he should’ve gone looking for bucky#even just to bury a body#goooooooooooooooooooooddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddd (via buckyoubucky)
It will haunt Steve forever. It will haunt Steve that he failed Bucky over and over again in his mind. It will haunt him that his cocksure attitude as the hero of the war is what put Bucky in danger again. It will haunt him that he asked Bucky to go with him when he knew Bucky’s answer would always be yes and knew Bucky would always be the one who fished him out of trouble. It will haunt him that he didn’t stop long enough to realize what that loyalty would mean now that Steve was no longer a 90 lb weakling who could only get up to moderate trouble and was now larger than life. It will haunt him that Bucky died protecting him. It will haunt him that he was a super soldier, but he couldn’t reach his friend when he needed him. It will haunt him that he never bothered to look, that maybe it was too painful and he’d rather simply see him fall in his mind, still alive, rather than go find his broken body. It will haunt him that he was able to put the pieces together SO QUICKLY at this point, but he never even entertained the thought beforehand when HE of all people had a reference to what was going on in the place he rescued Bucky from. It will haunt him that he didn’t give up when Bucky was “dead” before, but he did this time.
Steve’s genesis of guilt isn’t guilt over things he’s done, it’s guilt over things he DIDN’T do. Things he didn’t pay attention to. Things he didn’t think through because he was reckless and idealistic and had something to PROVE. “Sometimes I think you like getting hit…” Steve took on all comers because he wanted to be something USEFUL. Something BIGGER. He could have been more reasonable after he rescued Bucky. He have come up with less reckless plans. Could have…could have…could have. He spent Bucky’s last night before shipping out worrying him and trying to enlist. He spent Bucky’s after-rescue trying to save the world single handed. Always biting off more than he could chew, only now he could chew a LOT more…always focused on his own need to stand up for something. Could have…could have…young and stupid and could have…
And Steve from this point on is coming to the horrific conclusion that Bucky is the one who suffers the brunt of the punishment for that.
No wonder he throws down his shield in the end, even after Sam reminds him Bucky is probably gone. Steve gave up on Bucky too soon beforehand. That’s a mistake Steve will NEVER make again. There’s going to be no could have this time.
Remember Steve giving this speech at the beginning of the final fight, “The price of freedom is high. It always has been. That’s a price I’m willing to pay. And if I’m the only one, then so be it — but I’m willing to bet I’m not.”
The thing about this is that Steve knows first hand exactly how high that price is and he himself has paid it, but so have so many people he knows; Bucky, Peggy, Sam, even Natasha. And that’s harder for him to parse because he will always lead the charge (and pay the price), but not everyone chooses that; they choose him.
And at this point, Steve has never been more aware of how unfair that choice was for Bucky. Just as much as Steve would never turn away from fighting for what’s right, Bucky would never leave him to do it alone. And as much as that is Bucky’s choice (as Peggy correctly says) to fight and die beside Steve, it was also Steve’s choices that led to him leaving Bucky behind (dead or otherwise) to finish the fight with the Red Skull. In hindsight he recognizes that he was fueled by grief and anger to seek out and finish HYDRA after Bucky fell, but it was also an awareness that the world was at stake. And I think a part of him wonders in CA:TWS that if he had to choose again, if he had to sacrifice Bucky again to save the world, he might not be able to do it. And that’s antithetical to Steve, but come on, he’s still human. He still struggles with making a hard choice even when he knows ultimately it’s the right one.
He’s still guilty even when he’s done the right thing, because it’s not him that’s paying the price - it’s Bucky. Someone who’s always looked out for him, no matter the cost; right or wrong; and he can’t even return the favour.
And so when Steve drops his shield - which is just so central to who Steve is and has been from the beginning (remember that trashcan lid) - he’s literally just. refusing to go on without Bucky. Putting aside reading Steve as depressed or suicidal in CA:TWS, in that moment Steve’s done his duty by the rest of his team, completed the mission. And until that moment Steve was ready to put the Winter Soldier down if that was what it took. But the second it’s done, Bucky is his first and only concern. Steve throwing away the shield reads like him saying “if I can’t save you, then spare me the pain and just finish me”. He refuses to let another fight sweep him away from Bucky yet again (hello Age of Ultron) so he literally just gives himself over to Bucky. Either he saves Bucky (gives him his name, gives him their friendship) and lives or he doesn’t and dies. The choice is that stark for him.
As Steve says, he has always been willing to pay the price - and now he can finally make it right that Bucky paid it for him when he fell. (And then he falls himself, but this time the only person that can save him isn’t being carried away into the distance. This time, that person comes to find him.)
Steve and Bucky are both so brave in such quietly different ways. Steve is the person who tries so hard to keep things RIGHT. It’s not really idealism because Steve recognizes wrong when he sees it and accepts flaws in people, but it’s this core of wanting things to be BETTER. The knowledge that things in the world aren’t fair and sometimes people suffer for no fault of their own and his desperate wish to fix that. Steve is willing to die for that. What he’s not prepared to do is what actually happens in it costing him people around him rather than himself. He suffers because of that. He suffers because he was willing to give up SO MUCH. And cruelly it costs him the one thing he wasn’t expecting.
And Bucky…Steve realizes exactly WHAT happened to Bucky. You get the feeling he never really asked. He saw Bucky didn’t want to talk about it and left it. Bucky didn’t confide in him and Steve didn’t catch the signs and suddenly Steve gets it. It wasn’t just questioning and torture, they were turning Bucky into some dark film negative of what Steve was. It was worse than what Steve assumed and Bucky didn’t TELL him. That’s going to hurt Steve.
Yet in spite of it, in spite of being ripped to pieces literally and figuratively, Bucky quietly followed Steve right back into hell, because, much like Steve, he quietly suffers too. These aren’t men who paint the walls with their angst and suffering. Both of them just give a pained smile that doesn’t quite make it to their eyes and plunge right back in. Maybe Bucky’s motives aren’t quite as pure, but he’s no less brave than Steve and complains just as little.