Bucky leant against the jacaranda tree and watched Steve turn his head like he was speaking to someone. Bucky had long accepted that Steve was the only one visible from the window that connected the soul world to the real one. And honestly? That was more than enough for him.
Steve was breathing and talking, and Bucky didn’t need to hear it– just his chest moving up and down and his lips forming words was enough.
A couple of others that he’d talked to could see people from the reality world– a name that had been unanimously accepted for the phenomenon they couldn’t explain– and those who couldn’t, bitterly averted their eyes whenever Bucky was around.
Steve’s shoulders slumped where he stood and Bucky saw him squeeze his eyes shut and take a deep breath, the way he did when he didn’t want a situation to overwhelm him. He looked up and his lips formed words, slow and deliberate.
One word that Bucky had traced with his fingers when Steve had been defeated and worn down, and with his lips when Steve was too elated to say anything else. His name. Bucky.
“Steve.” Bucky lurched forward, reaching out to touch Steve even though he knew he couldn’t.
Just as he’d predicted, his hand passed right through, and he swore– maybe it was a figment of his imagination, but for a split second Steve looked right at him with those haunted blue eyes, the ever-present evidence of sleepless nights underneath them.
Bucky got so caught up in the moment that it took him a second to realise that Steve wasn’t in front of him anymore. It happened sometimes, when Steve would get on a jet and travel too far, and it would take Bucky days to track him down.
But as he looked around it hit him that he could see the jet, or multiple of them in fact, and his panic only rose when a muscular blond man appeared beside him. Bucky knew him from pictures that Steve had shown him. Thor. And Bucky knew that he hadn’t been in the soul world a moment ago.
Oh god. Had it happened again? Had Steve-
No, Bucky admonished himself, Steve wouldn’t just disappear then.
“James.” Thor was saying. “Bucky!”
“It’s okay, you’re okay now. Come on.” He grabbed Bucky’s forearm and Bucky flinched, stumbling and falling on the ground. Which had grass that he could touch. And Thor had just touched him. He hadn’t been touched in two years.
“No.” Bucky whispered, fully taking in his surroundings. No. No. “Where is Steve? Where is he?!”
“James...” Thor’s voice dropped to a sympathetic whisper.
“No! No! Where is he? He has to be here! He was just here! Steve! Steve!” Bucky was hysterical, ready to dig the ground with his bare hands if he could find Steve there.
“He’s- James! He’s not here!” Thor’s voice snapped him back to reality and Bucky realised he had in fact started digging the ground with his fingers. His flesh ones were bloody and torn from the broken glass he’d pushed through.
“Please. Please, is he alive?” Bucky whispered, his voice spent from all the shouting.
The look on Thor’s face confirmed what he already knew. It didn’t mean he was going to accept it though.
“He must be in the soul world!” Bucky grabbed onto Thor’s arms as if it would make him understand. “He must be! I saw him, right before I came back. He couldn’t touch me but he saw me! We passed each other. Please, please. If you could bring me back, you can bring him back too, I–“
“James, I can’t.” Thor looked just as pained about it as Bucky felt. “The soul stone it’s– Steve destroyed it with the Mjölnir when we went back in time, and it took him with it. I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.”
Bucky didn’t know when he’d started crying but his face was suddenly being pressed into a comforting shoulder. And Bucky wailed, painful sobs that made him tremble in Thor’s arms.
“I can’t– I can’t go on without him I–“ Bucky said when his tears turned to dry heaving.
“You have to.” Thor looked him in the eyes, a stern expression on the previously sympathetic face. “He wanted you to live, to have a chance at a life he felt that he’d denied you before.”
“It wasn’t his fault–“
“I know that, and I think Steve did too. But it didn’t make him feel any less guilty.”
Bucky pressed his lips together, holding back a pathetic whine.
“Come on now, you need to rest.” Thor stood up and offered a hand to Bucky.
Bucky didn’t think he could ever rest again, but he took it anyway.