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The Long Way Round

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When Bucky’s finally fought his way back through the crowded pub and slides into their booth, he immediately notices how the mood has turned sour. It’s subtle, but Bucky’s known these guys for years, and something’s definitely up.

Jacques and Gabe have their heads bent together, and are talking in quiet, hissed French, turned away from the rest of the group. Morita’s resting bitch face has reached an entirely new level, Monty is typing away on his phone, and even Dum Dum, although still trying to keep up the conversation, is much less buoyant and blustering than usual. And then there’s Tony, shoulders hunched and shrunk in on himself, eyes fixed on a spot on the table as he worries his bottom lip.

“Hey,” Bucky whispers, and bumps their knees together, frowning when Tony startles, and pulls his leg away. “Everythin’ all right? Did somethin’ happen while I was gone?”

Tony shakes his head, the movement a little jerky. “It’s nothing,” he says, flat. It’s clearly a lie, but before Bucky can call him out on it, he adds, “Just not feeling it tonight. I might turn in early, actually, if that’s okay?”

“‘Course, yeah,” Bucky says, reaching for his jacket. “Walk you home?”

For a moment, it looks like Tony’s going to say no. But then he swallows, hard, and nods, even smiles a little in thanks when Bucky helps him into his coat, and leans into Bucky’s side, albeit somewhat stiffly, when Bucky curls an arm around him.

“Breakfast tomorrow before we gotta catch our plane?” Bucky asks the rest of the table, getting nods and a few murmured confirmations in return. None of them tease or rib him for leaving after just one beer, and Bucky squints at them for a moment, suspicious, before he shrugs, and leads Tony out onto the street.

They walk in not entirely comfortable silence after Tony keeps blocking Bucky’s attempts at talking with short, one-word answers, clearly distracted by something. It’s not until they get to Tony’s apartment complex that Tony finally looks at Bucky again, his mouth downturned as he places a firm hand on Bucky’s chest when Bucky goes to follow him into the lobby.

“What? Not gonna invite me up for coffee?” Bucky asks, trying for joking in hopes of cheering Tony up. The flirty smile begins to slide off his face, though, when Tony shakes his head, opens his mouth as if to say something, then closes it again, and takes a deep, shuddering breath. “Hey, no. C’mon, sweetheart, talk to me? What’s wrong?”

He goes to touch Tony’s cheek, eyes widening and hand hovering awkwardly in the air between them when Tony takes a step back. “Tony?”

“Maybe we shouldn’t see each other anymore,” Tony blurts out in a rush. “It’s—I think it’s for the best. If we stop.”

It takes a moment for the meaning of the words to register, but when it does, Bucky turns cold, stomach sinking. “Are—are you breakin’ up with me? Tony—”

“You didn’t do anything wrong,” Tony hurries to reassure, reading Bucky’s mind. “You were perfect, Bucky, I swear you were. Are. This. It’s not. It’s really not you,” he says with a small, humourless chuckle, “it’s me.”

Bucky looks at the tense line of Tony’s shoulders, at the sad set of his mouth, the defeat in his eyes, and he knows it’s the truth. Or, at least, what Tony believes to be true. “Tony, sweetheart, I don’t understand—”

“Don’t make this any harder than it already is,” Tony says quietly as he backs away towards the door. Then, voice breaking on what sounds suspiciously like a sob, “Bucky, please.”

There’s nothing Bucky wants more than to reach out, wrap his arms around Tony, draw him in and hold him tight, kiss away the tears he can see glistening at the corners of Tony’s eyes. But Bucky’s never been able to refuse Tony, to deny him a single thing, especially not when he’s upset, and not even, it turns out, if it breaks his own heart. So Bucky nods, throat tight, and shoves his hands into his pockets instead.

“If—if you want to talk,” Bucky croaks, and has to clear his throat before he can continue, “about this, us, about something else. Or if you need me, if you need anything at all. You call me, a’right?” He waits until Tony hesitantly meets his eyes, needing Tony to see how serious he is about this, then promises, “I will find time for you. Doesn’t matter where I am, what I’m doing. I’ll make time for you, Tony. Always. I’ll—I’ll bribe Colonel Phillips to give me phone privileges, whatever it takes. I’ll do it.”

Tony’s crying fully now, and Bucky’s helpless to watch him wipe at his cheeks, doesn’t know what to do, how to fix it when Tony hiccups, wet and pained, “I’m sorry,” before turning around, and fleeing inside.

“Hey,” Steve calls as Bucky closes the door to their apartment behind himself. “There’s some leftovers in the fridge if you’re hungry. Peggy cooked, don’t worry. Oh! She wanted me to ask you—”

He cuts off abruptly when Bucky rounds the corner into the living room, throws himself down on the couch face first, and pulls the comforter folded over its back down and over himself. “Buck? You okay?”

“No,” Bucky says, muffled. “Tony broke up with me.” When several seconds pass without Steve saying anything, Bucky shoves the comforter down enough to glance over at him, hackles raising at Steve’s almost relieved expression. “What?”

“Well. You know,” Steve says, shrugging. “It’s not exactly a surprise, is it?”

Bucky blinks at him. “The fuck are you talkin’ about? We were fine.”

The way Steve grimaces, he apparently doesn’t agree. “Buck, c’mon. He’s nineteen, smart, absurdly rich—

“So, what?” Bucky cuts in snappishly. “You’re sayin’ I’m not good enough for him? Tony doesn’t care about shit like that. An’ I thought you didn’t, either.”

Steve glares at him. “You know damn well that’s not what I’m saying. You’re a catch, anyone’d be lucky to have you.”

“Anyone but Tony?” Bucky sits up properly, pointing an accusing finger at Steve. “You never liked him, anyway. You never even gave him a chance to—”

“Because I knew this would happen!” Steve yells back, throwing his hands up in the air. “Bucky, be serious for a moment. Tony is young, with the world at his feet, and people lining up to get a piece of him. He’s—flighty, he’s never had a stable relationship before you came along. I want you to be happy, you know I do, but him getting bored of you was exactly what I was afraid of when—”

“That’s not what happened,” Bucky insists, standing.

Steve shrugs, but his pitying expression belies his nonchalance. “Maybe, maybe not.”

“I’m going to bed,” Bucky sighs, shaking his head. “Don’t wanna fight with you on my last day home.”

Bucky doesn’t fall asleep until hours later, though, curled up on top of his blankets, clutching a pillow that still smells faintly of Tony, his heart heavy and a lump in his throat.