This morning I woke up and Steve pulled me aside before breakfast to talk. It’s been a week and a half since… the battle. With Thanos. The same one for me, but years apart from the one in Wakanda for him. He had barely spoken to me in that time, but I understood. It was a shock, after all those years. Even if it was only seconds to those of us who were taken out with the snap. He pulled me aside and I was so relieved because I thought that he was finally ready to talk about those five years. Finally accepting that I’m actually- still- not dead. Again. But then he told me that he was taking the stones back to their timelines today. And that he was taking himself back to the past. Back to her. And staying there. I didn’t understand and I still don’t. God help me, my entire life, all I’ve wanted was for him to be happy. But this… I cannot reconcile myself to this. Even though I look up and he’s sitting across the room, on the couch, here with me again. Only gone for mere seconds longer than her was supposed to be. And yet this morning he was young and vibrating with too much energy like always. And now his skin is wrinkled and sallow, the serum made muscles gone, frail once more but in a way that I never imagined he could be. We’re sitting in the same room but we are lifetimes apart now. And I cannot understand it and I do not know how I am supposed to accept it. How he can possibly think I’m even capable of it. I don’t even know what to say to him so I haven’t said anything at all since his return.
It hurts. It hurts a fucking lot. To face the undeniable truth that he has always been my true north, the axis that my world spins around. The only one who could bring me back from the darkest places a person can ever go. I knew he didn’t feel that love in the same way I did, but I thought I at least meant something to him, you know? I thought he actually meant it when he said to the end of the line. I’m trying hard not to blame him, I really am. But right now… it just feels like a fucking lie. Everything. He looks about two days away from his deathbed. I don’t know if I can bear it. I hope he doesn’t expect me to support his casket at his funeral. And the fact that I even have to consider that when just twelve hours ago he was healthy and full of life, it tears me apart inside. I can’t help but wonder if it’s because of my past, the things I did as the Winter Soldier. Could he truly never forgive me in his heart even though he said over and over to anyone who would listen that it wasn’t me, wasn’t my fault? Am I so different now from the boy he knew in Brooklyn that I am no longer worth the effort for even a friendship? When he dies, and he will, I will be left in this world maybe not entirely alone but certainly without a single person on earth who can look at me and see me simply as Bucky and not as the Winter Soldier before anything else.
Bucky’s fingers clench around the pen in his hand and he glances across the room at Steve and Sam, who are talking quietly by the fireplace. It’s awkward, stilted conversation. Sam is sitting tensely at one end, fiddling with the ends of his sleeves as he listens to Steve talk about his life. The way he had twin girls and named them Jamie and Samantha. Bucky supposes he should feel happy for Steve, but the fact that he named his children after him and Sam almost just adds insult to injury here. He speaks of them with pride and sorrow and overwhelming guilt. They both died in the 9/11 attack. Steve hadn’t stopped it even though he knew it was going to happen. The consequences of that were the lives of his children, who he hadn’t known were going to be in the towers that day.
The window is cold against Bucky’s cheek where his face rested against it and his leg is going to sleep but his skin is too tight, too hot. His vision blurry with liquid. It’s been a long time since he’s cried but this… of course this is thing that breaks the streak. How could it not be? The ink on the pages of his journal already stained from the teardrops he just couldn’t hold back. He refuses to have anyone see him like this though, so he slams the book shut and stands from the window seat. They’re in a guesthouse behind Stark’s ‘cabin’, and he isn’t really sure where exactly they’re going to go after they leave. The Avengers compound is toast, obviously. The place he had carved out for himself in Wakanda long gone. Steve had lived in an apartment in the city in this timeline apparently but… he didn’t have a clue how that was going to work out now. He probably didn’t even remember where it was; let alone where his keys were. They’d take it day by day.
He clears his throat, keeping his face in the shadows. “I’m going to bed.”
“Goodnight,” Sam glances over at him, the corner of his mouth tilting up in a sorry approximation of a smile. At least he’s managing to acknowledge Steve’s existence, even if he’s struggling internally with his decision.
Bucky nods back and stalks out of the room, just clearing the doorway when Steve’s quiet words stop him in his tracks.
“I’m sorry, Buck.”
His metal hand grips the wooden doorframe so hard that it splinters in his palm. “Goodnight, Steve.”
Bucky’s in the kitchen making coffee just after dawn when Steve walks in. He had always been an early riser and apparently even his life as a civilian hadn’t changed that. Bucky looks back to the coffee maker. “You want some?”
“Yeah… thank you.” Steve’s voice is strained, tense. “You know, once I went back, one of the things I missed most about the future was Starbucks. I had become rather attached to my macchiatos.”
“I would have thought you might have missed your friends- your family the most,” Bucky mutters under his breath. But apparently for all that he looks like any other elderly man, the serum is still coursing through Steve’s blood, still enhancing his hearing.
“Bucky, you have to understand. I couldn’t keep fighting; it was time for me to retire. To settle down. There was no one here that I could have found shared life experience with, that would understand. I had to try and see if it would work, and it did. And I lived a beautiful life. Why can’t you just be happy for me?”
Bucky yanks open the cabinet and grabs another coffee cup, filling it with the bitter liquid even though he wants to throw it at Steve’s head instead. His entire body is shaking. “Shared life experience?” And wow, yeah it definitely sounds like he gargled with broken glass this morning. “Is this supposed to be some sick joke, Steve? You lived here, in the future for eleven years. You fought aliens and robots and went to space and saved the universe. In what world could 1940’s Peggy Carter possibly understand any of that?!” He places the coffee cup in front of Steve. “Did you even tell her? That you time traveled back to her and left all your friends in the future knowing when you saw them again you would be…this. But that the time apart would be only seconds for us and you expect me to understand and be happy? You can’t sit there and expect me to be grateful that I’m going to have to watch you die when I’ve spent my entire life trying to prevent that from happening. I won’t do it, Steve. I can’t.”
“Barnes,” Sam steps into the room, clearly having overheard the conversation. His expression grim. “That’s enough. Go take a walk.”
Bucky glowers at him and then at Steve, who doesn’t meet his eye. And then he turns on his heel and storms out of the room. He retrieves his journal and his phone from the room he had been staying in and takes it out to the dock. Hot tears drip down his cheeks. He hates it, he hates Steve, and he hates himself. Maybe it would have been better if he had just stayed dusted. Maybe he had been alive too long and he should just end it right now. Maybe he should get on a spaceship with that annoying fucking raccoon and run away to another planet and never come back.
Maybe he should drop Steve off at the nearest low budget nursing home and leave him there to stew in hopefully his own guilt for a few weeks.
Maybe it’s a little overdramatic of him but he puts Space Cowboy by Kacey Musgraves on repeat- Shuri had listened to it while they were working on deconditioning him, back when the album had come out. A few months ago for him, but years ago for the world- and starts to write down his broken thoughts even though his hand is shaking so badly that his handwriting is nearly illegible.
It’s been a day now. I’m angry at him, so so so angry and I don’t know how I’m ever supposed to get over it. It’s selfish, but you know what, in this instance I think I deserve to be at least a little selfish. God knows he certainly was. It’s a tough position to be in, these violent emotions clashing within me. Endless love warring with the anger and the pain and the betrayal. He said no one here would have been able to give him shared life experience. I mean, I exist. I’m here. I’ve been here for him every second that I was able to for my entire life. Maybe our lives haven’t been identical but I know damn well that Peggy Carter couldn’t give him the kind of shared life experience that I could. And that brings me to the crux of it. He would never and has never considered anything like that with me. He thinks of a relationship and he thinks of women as his only option. And so he’s straight… that’s fine, I guess. You can’t control what you’re attracted to. Clearly. But there have been times over the years when I could have sworn I saw things… things that didn’t add up to that result. Maybe I was projecting, maybe I was looking for blind hope and attached myself to ideas and images that never existed outside my own mind.
“Man, if it wasn’t already glaringly obvious that you’re gay by the bomber jacket and skinny jeans you wore to Stark’s funeral, the fact that you’re depression listening to this kind of music after getting basically dumped definitely confirms it.”
Bucky glares at Sam and shuts the notebook with a snap, too tired to really care that apparently his sexuality was clear to anyone who looked. Not that it matters now, since apparently that kind of thing is okay now. About a hundred years too late for him. He’s already lost all his chances. “Go away, I hate you.”
“I think you hurt Steve’s feelings,” Sam didn’t go away. He sat down next to Bucky, his legs crossed. Hovering like the annoying therapist fly he is.
“Well, he hurt my feelings so I guess that makes us even, Samuel.” The Winter Soldier had never sulked, hadn’t even known how. But damn if Bucky Barnes wasn’t a melodramatic son of a bitch and he would pout and resent this as much as he wanted to.
“You think he didn’t hurt mine?” Sam gazes out across the lake. “I put on a brave face in front of him and it’s been so long for him that he doesn’t even know me well enough to notice it. But I lost my best friend too, Bucky. The difference was you knew he was going to do it and I didn’t. He didn’t care enough to bother to tell me.” The only tell of emotion on his face was the muscle twitch as he tightened his jaw. “I’m not blind; I know you’re in love with him. Or were in love with the him that was. I know this is harder on you than it is on me and it is damn hard on me. You have a right to feel however you want. Your pain is your own. But I’m not really sure it’s worth it to take it out on him. If he were still…the way he was yesterday morning, then yeah, sure. Hell, I’d even join you in ripping him a new one. But he’s not the same. He’s not our Steve and he never will be again. I don’t know that it’s worth the fight and the risk of losing what little of him that we still have.”
“There’s nothing of him left for me, Sam,” Bucky wraps his arms around his knees. His lungs don’t want to work, don’t want to draw in air, stuttering on every inhale and exhale. Even his body knows that he’s adrift without an anchor without Steve. “You’re willing to try and have him as your friend again and that’s great. Good for you. But for all that I thought I would have forgiven him anything… I’m not sure I can ever move past this. I can’t even look at him without feeling sick. You were right,” he laughs, bitter, looking over at the other man. “I am in love with him. Or I was. But I was never going to be enough for him. Not even as a friend.
“I gave him everything I could to make him happy, my entire life. I was seventeen years old working fifteen hour shifts seven days a week just so he didn’t have to. So he wouldn’t die. So we could afford food and medicine and heat in the winter. I threw myself in the paths of bullets time and time again during the war to keep him out of them even though he would have healed from it faster than I did because I couldn’t bear the thought of him being hurt. And I would have willingly kept doing all these things, every day, for as long as I lived and I would have died and found him in another life and done them all again. Over and over for all of eternity because he has been the closest thing I could ever come to describing as a soulmate. At least on my end. And it still wasn’t enough to make him care or stay. I think this time… I think I’m done. I think I’m going to wash my hands of him and make it the cleanest possible break that I can. Because I cannot watch him waste away and die and be able to do nothing about it. I have nothing left to give and no one left to care.”
Sam is silent for a long time. The song loops twice before he speaks again, gripping Bucky’s flesh shoulder lightly in his left hand. “I know I’m not Steve and I never will be. I didn’t know you as a child. But even though we fuss and fight, I do consider you one of my close friends. I do care about you. You’re not alone. Even without him. I’ll be here. For whatever it’s worth.”
“Thank you,” he whispers, hoarse. “I’ll never say it again, but. Thank you. And it goes both ways, you know. We’ll figure out how to move on together.”
“I know we will,” Sam pushes to his feet, his hands deep in his jacket pockets. He starts to walk back toward the cabin but stops and smirks back at Bucky. “If you’re looking for anymore sad country breakup songs, try the album Red by Taylor Swift. I think it’ll resonate with you.”