Bucky stumbled between one step and the next, all of his senses screaming to him that something had changed, that something was different from how it was before. But then Steve barrelled into his chest so hard they both tipped backwards to fall onto the grassy ground, clutching him so tightly as if he was afraid Bucky would disappear the moment he let go, and nothing else mattered anymore as he held Steve from shaking apart in his arms.
Sam opened his eyes at the sound of his name, pushing his aching body to a seated position with some difficulty (damn he had hit the ground hard). “Here,” he groaned, and the next moment a series of familiar mechanical whirrs approached at speed and Rhodes was leaning over him, a hand held out. “You alright there man?” Rhodes asked, standard fare, but there were tears mixing with the dust and darkening bruises on his face, voice choked with emotions Sam couldn’t currently put context to. But Sam was a patient man, and answers could come later. For now, he just took Rhodes’ offered hand and let him pull him off the ground into a hug.
One moment blended into the next, a split-second barely noticeable in the long life of a tree. “I am Groot.” And all of a sudden Rocket was latched onto his neck, shedding salty tears into the weave of the wood. Vaguely bemused, Groot wondered for a moment where his game station had gone, but decided that it could wait for a little while as he reached with both hands to cradle that quivering form, leaves rustling upon that small bowed head to return the warmth he had always received.
Wanda tumbled to the ground, knees buckling and fingers turning cold where they tangled in the damp grass, and found no will to stand back up. There were still shouts all around her, the battle continuing on, but she just curled further in her crumpled position, feeling drained of both energy and tears. Why bother standing again, when all she had loved was gone? (‘By your own hands, and all for naught,’ a cruel voice that was hers yet not whispered like poison in her mind. ‘After all, you are but a poor helpless child made for destruction.’) No, Wanda wanted to say, no, that’s wrong. But the one who had anchored her to that belief, had shown her that she too could love, was lost forever. As the echoing sounds of battle dulled into silence, she felt almost at peace, knowing that in just a few more moments, she would be torn away from the cruel touch of reality.
But the seconds ticked by, and the end of the world never came. What reached her instead was her name uttered by that one voice she had never thought she would hear again. “Wanda,” he called, gentle as he always was. She turned so fast the forest spun dizzily around her, but still her gaze fixed unerringly on that beloved figure, so familiar, so dear.
She didn’t question it, didn’t question how Vision could be standing before her when mere moments ago she had seen Thanos rip the stone from his head, the light leaving his eyes to leave an empty shell.
Just ran into his arms because she had known for a long time that that was home.
T’Challa paused mid-step, knowing instinctively that something was not quite the same, was not quite right. Turning to look back only confirmed that knowledge. For Okoye, strong fierce Okoye, who he had never seen shed tears, stood before him with tears spilling from eyes filled with equal parts joy and some long-held grief. And warriors all around them, laughing and crying all at once, arms reaching for comrades as if to reaffirm that each of them were alive. He realised that his initial judgement had been wrong, because this was exactly right. This was how it was always meant to be.
Their victory cry spread like the rays of sun across the land.
Peter blinked. And blinked again. “Mr Stark-” He barely got the words out, barely managed to register the unfamiliar sight of tears on that familiar face, before he was crushed against an armoured chest. Part of him wanted to just stop and savour the moment, yet as always, his big mouth had other ideas. “This is a hug, right?” he whispered, instantly kicking himself for ruining it. But instead of the expected denial or reprimand, Tony let out a choked-up sound that was half sob half laughter, only tightening his grip to hold Peter even closer.
Right. So it was a hug. Peter could work with that.
Curling his fingers around battered metal plates which encased a body that heaved anew with sobs, he shook off the fading whisper of trembling words uttered in another life, secure in the knowledge that in this moment, he was as safe as he could ever be.
Stephen Strange closed his eyes and opened them, and at the sight laid before him, smiled a slow, victorious smile.
They had won.