Welcome to Bae Watch Wednesday, where I tell you all about the fictional characters you ought to be crushing on. This month I’m hyped for Avengers: Infinity War, so I’m showcasing MCU baes all April. Following last week’s Peggy Carter is the other love of Steve Rogers’ life: Bucky Barnes.

Who is Bucky Barnes?

James Buchanan Barnes — known as “Bucky” — was Steve Rogers’ childhood best friend. Bucky was born in New York at the tail end of World War I. He grew into a handsome and charming young man, unlike his sickly best friend. Still, Bucky stayed by Steve’s side until they were unfortunately separated by the dawn of World War II.

Even at that point, Bucky tried his best to stay with Steve. Unfortunately, he was drafted into the 107th Infantry Regiment, the unit that Steve’s father was in World War I. For his part, Steve was raring to go, desperate to serve his country but rejected repeatedly due to his health issues.

Throughout their youth, Bucky was focused on protecting Steve. For all that he had serious health issues, Steve had a whole lot of aggression and a lack of common sense, which tended to get him into trouble. Luckily, Bucky was always there to help Steve out. He was dedicated to protecting his best friend.

On his last night before deployment, Bucky sought out Steve’s company (finding him fist-fighting, naturally). The two went on a double date to the Stark Expo, where Bucky nerded out over the future. However, their enjoyable last night was derailed when Steve tried to enlist yet again. Bucky couldn’t understand why Steve wouldn’t just stay at home where he was safe.

But, despite their disagreements, they still parted as best friends. Bucky was overseas when Steve finally found his way to serve with Project Rebirth. After Steve is augmented by Abraham Erskine’s super serum, he performs for the troops in Europe. It is there that he learns that Bucky’s unit, the 107th, has been taken captive by Hydra forces.

Howling Commandos and the Fall

This is the push Steve needs to become active as a soldier in the war. He breaks protocol and sneaks off to save Bucky. When Steve gets to the facility, he finds the rest of the 107th, but Bucky is still missing. He refuses to leave until he saves his best friend. Steve eventually rescues Bucky, who is confused as to when Steve got so tall but happy to see his friend.

Bucky and several other soldiers that Steve rescued then form the Howling Commandos, Captain America’s personal troops. They begin to thwart Hydra plans across the continent. After all, having all been prisoners of Hydra, they all have a personal stake in stopping them.

While with the Howling Commandos, Bucky tended to act as a sniper. Even after Steve became Captain America, Bucky still wanted to protect his best friend. Sadly, tragedy struck on a mission to intercept Arnim Zola, a top Hydra scientist. While fighting Hydra troops, Bucky falls from a train into a deep chasm. Steve mourns his dead best friend and fights on in his memory.

Except… Bucky isn’t dead. While a captive of Hydra, Bucky had been experimented on by Zola, who was trying to recreate Erskine’s formula. Bucky’s body was enhanced to the point where it survived the fall, though he lost an arm. He was later found by Hydra troops, who brought Bucky back to be experimented on some more.

It is during this time that Bucky was brainwashed by Hydra. They turned him into a living weapon, giving him a cybernetic prosthetic and a memory wipe. Using special programming, they were able to control Bucky and use him to achieve their nefarious ends. He ceased to be Bucky and became the Winter Soldier.

Breaking Free

Over the next 70 years, the Winter Soldier would periodically be activated and sent on missions for Hydra. Each time, he would accomplish his mission, then return to cryofreeze. When Hydra planned to take over SHIELD in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, he was activated again.

This time, the Winter Soldier was sent to stop SHIELD from stopping Hydra. He nearly assassinates Nick Fury, who was becoming suspicious. Nick was hiding out with Steve, who attempted to fight the mysterious assassin, not knowing it was his long lost best friend.

Later, the Winter Soldier is sent to stop Steve and Natasha Romanoff. He tries to kill both of them but is unsuccessful. During a hand-to-hand fight, Steve manages to remove the Winter Soldier’s mask — revealing Bucky Barnes. He is shocked and briefly manages to break Bucky’s programming by saying his name.

Bucky begins to reject his Hydra programming. To maintain control of their weapon, Hydra wiped Bucky’s memory again, then sent him after Steve. During their fight, Steve manages to break through to Bucky, reminding him of who he truly is. Afterward, Bucky fled, going into hiding.

Bucky reemerges in Captain America: Civil War. He is framed for a bombing at the UN, and Steve tries to protect his friend from the ensuing manhunt. He ends up at odds with the world’s governments and his own friends, but will not abandon Bucky.

When it is revealed that Bucky killed Howard and Maria Stark, Tony Stark tries to kill him. Steve won’t stand for this, and an epic fight ensues. In the end, Steve and Bucky walk away together. Bucky, afraid of what he is capable of, asks to be put into cryofreeze once more until he can rejoin the world as Bucky Barnes once more — not the Winter Soldier.

Why is Bucky Barnes Bae?

(Say that three times fast!) First of all, have you seen Sebastian Stan? He somehow manages to be the perfect combination of sexy and adorable — not an easy feat. Even as the Winter Soldier, a disheveled man with too long hair and crazy eyeshadow, Stan slays.

As Bucky Barnes, though, Stan really brings the heat. He looks perfect in 1940s attire, the consummate gentleman. He works that army uniform. Later, breaking free of the Winter Soldier programming, Bucky still looks good with long hair. Do you know how few men look good in long hair? It’s impressive how good he still looks.

Sebastian Stan is one of those men you want to cuddle with because he looks adorable and like he’d be super soft. But at the same time, he can work a smolder. It’s simply not fair how good-looking he is.

I’m tempted to complain to the manager, but then we wouldn’t get to look at him. So I’ll put up with the sheer unfairness of such an attractive man if it means I get more Sebastian Stan.

Good Guy Bucky Barnes

But that whole adorable, probably super soft thing? It’s not just his looks. He has that same personality as Bucky Barnes, the adorable nerd who just wants to keep Steve Rogers safe. This is a man who did not want to go to war. He would rather stay at home with his best friend. He just wants peace — which of course makes his life all the more tragic.

Think about it. On his last night of freedom, Bucky goes to the Stark Expo to see advancements in science. That’s such a nerdy thing to do. He could have gone out to a bar, gone dancing, what have you… but he goes to the science fair. And, he gets a date for Steve too, so he won’t feel like a third wheel. He just wants a happy last night with his best friend.

Obviously, as the Winter Soldier, Bucky does some terrible things. Murdering the Starks was terrible, but it was only one mission. So it’s truly tragic to watch this good person be forced to do terrible things and all in the service of people he tried so hard to stop.

But there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Once Steve breaks through his programming, Bucky is able to return to that gentle person he once was. Civil War gives us amazing insight into who Bucky would be, given his own agency.

Bucky’s apartment in Bucharest shows this side of him. Bucky is rejecting the Winter Soldier and returning to real life. He has made something in Bucharest. He has dishes and he goes grocery shopping. All he wants is a simple, quiet life. He wants to be good — which is why he willingly goes back into cryofreeze, to protect the world from himself.

Captain’s Equal

Another amazing aspect of Bucky Barnes is his relationship with Steve. Pre-serum, Bucky is the big one, the protector, the muscle. He looks out for Steve — but not just in stopping random guys from beating Steve up in alleyways. After Steve’s mom dies, Bucky is there for emotional support too.

Post-serum, of course, everything changes. Steve is now bigger than Bucky, and more than capable of holding his own in fights. However, Bucky never stops trying to protect Steve. He is still devoted to his best friend — he doesn’t care about Captain America or anything else. All he cares about is Steve.

It’s after rejoining the modern era that Bucky’s relationship with Steve really shines, though. To all the world, Steve is Captain America, no more, no less. Steve Rogers has essentially ceased to exist. No one remembers the skinny kid from Brooklyn who just wanted to make a difference. But Bucky Barnes remembers.

Steve needs this. He needs to be able to be himself, not an icon. Bucky brings him back down to earth, reminds him he is still human. In Civil War, Bucky starts treating Steve the way he used to — snarky, supportive, and always there for him. It’s beautiful to see, especially watching Steve flourish with that support again.

Whether or not you read into this as a romantic relationship, it’s undeniable that Bucky and Steve belong together. Now that they may have a chance at being together again, the world is a little brighter — even if it may be about to end.

What’s Not To Love?

Bucky Barnes is one of the more tragic characters in the MCU. (Which is saying something, because so many of these characters have been through so much. Give them a break, Marvel! Although with Infinity War looming, that’s unlikely).

In Bucky Barnes, though, is true tragedy. We are given a character full of love and light, who just wants to protect his best friend and have a quiet life. Instead, he is drafted into a war, used in human experimentation, brainwashed into becoming an agent of evil, and forced to do terrible things. He loses his whole identity.

But! Bucky is fighting hard to get back to who he is. While tragedy looms in Infinity War, we have so far seen Bucky actually smile at Steve. Shuri has helped Bucky erase the Winter Soldier programming, so he no longer has to fear what he may do. Instead, he can just get back to doing what he does best — loving and protecting Steve Rogers.

In all the tragic stories in the MCU, Bucky Barnes stands out — but not just because of the depth of his tragedy. He stands out because he is working hard to overcome his tragic past, and we may just see him accomplish that. It’s a beautiful future that I sincerely hope the Russo brothers don’t stomp into the ground.

Bucky Barnes is a good-hearted, gentle nerd. He loves his best friend and wants to help people. He deserves happiness, and I hope that we see him actually get what he deserves.