One minute, Bucky was watching himself flake away into dust and calling out Steve’s name, too shocked to even think about panicking. The next, he was in one piece and Steve was nowhere to be found. Wanda, Sam, T’Challa, and the tree were all there but everyone else was just… gone. They all stood there for a moment, wondering what to do.
Then, a golden portal appeared a few feet away and a young woman stepped out of it. Bucky could see the field where the battle had begun on the other side. Everyone in the field was regrouping, patching up wounds and checking weapons and armor. Preparing for more fighting.
“It may feel like an instant since you were fighting here, but it’s been five years. There’s a lot you’ve missed… more than I can explain now. I wish I had the time, but Thanos and his army are still standing. And, as long as they are, we have more work to do.” She motioned for them all to step through the portal.
As soon as Bucky was on the other side, someone handed him a gun and ran off to help others prepare. He checked it over once, then another time when he found himself standing around with nothing to do.
The sorcerer from earlier was standing near a small group of other sorcerers, some of whom were speaking into small portals, coordinating. On the other side of one, he saw the spider kid he had fought at the airport in Germany. He stepped closer to the sorcerers to hear what was being said. A moment later, Sam came to stand by his side and listen as well.
Once everyone the sorcerers had gathered was ready, they would get everyone out onto the battlefield at once. From there, the plan was simple: try to win.
Sam laughed to himself suddenly. Then, he walked over to the sorcerers to speak to them. A few cracked a grin, and the one closest to Sam nodded.
Bucky walked closer to the sorcerer that had brought him and the others here.
“It took five years to undo everything,” he said, half to himself and half to her.
“It did. I don’t know all the details, but apparently the Avengers found Thanos pretty soon after everything happened and he had basically made the stones self-destruct. It took five years to find a way to get the stones back. Once they’d figured out how to do it, everything happened pretty quickly. I just wonder if they managed to find someone who could survive undoing all the damage Thanos did.”
“Using them kills you ?”
“If you’re a normal human, yes. Using them almost killed Thanos and he’s… Thanos .” She turned away from him then, listening to orders from the other sorcerers. It was time.
The field was silent as everyone stood waiting. The sorcerer that had nodded to Sam earlier looked to him expectantly. Sam tapped his earpiece, then spoke.
“Hey, Cap, you read me?” He paused. No response. “Cap, It’s Sam. Can you hear me?” Again, nothing. (Bucky forced himself to imagine Steve standing in stunned silence instead of lying dead on the ground. He wasn’t allowed to die.) “On your left.”
One portal opened, then another, then even more. Bucky stepped through the closest one onto a battlefield he didn’t recognize.
Steve was covered in dirt, his shield in pieces. Before the portals had opened, he’d been standing alone, ready to try to take on the whole damn army by himself. That was his Stevie, stubborn and reckless and determined. (And alive.)
People streamed out of the portals and the Avengers who were already there pulled themselves back to their feet to stand with the rest of them. As Wanda came to a stop next to him, a thought Bucky had during the first battle came back to him.
“Do you have a hair tie on you? I’d rather not die because my hair gets in my eyes.”
Her eyes were red and teary but that still managed to get a small laugh out of her. She combed some of his hair back with her fingers and tied it away from his face.
“Thanks.” He gave her a small smile. Then, they were both back to pre-battle steeliness, eyes locked on the shock-frozen army across the dirty battlefield.
A moment later, the movement of people stopped and everyone stood silent and still.
“Avengers! Assemble,” he heard Steve say off to his right. Then, both armies were charging at once.
Run. Shoot. Reload. Fall. Get up. Fight. Stay alive. Repeat. Remix. The familiar rhythm of the fight was equal parts exhausting and comforting. If it weren’t for the absurdity of both the enemies and allies surrounding him, Bucky might’ve been able to believe he was back fighting Nazis in the war. But, the raccoon on his right really spoiled the illusion.
After what could have been minutes or hours, the battle was paused by an explosion that knocked everyone off their feet. Bucky stayed on the ground for a minute, dazed. He could see the gauntlet from where he was lying but in his confused (possibly concussed) haze, its importance didn’t quite register.
As he slowly came back to himself, he watched Stark rush Thanos to keep him away from the gauntlet. He was knocked back quickly, but Thor jumped in to keep Thanos from it. Steve joined him a moment later and the sight of him brought Bucky back to full awareness. Both Steve and Thor were knocked back as well. Thanos had the gauntlet in his hand. The glowing woman Bucky hadn’t had the pleasure of meeting properly yet flew like a bullet to face Thanos, but she too was knocked back.
Thanos slipped the gauntlet onto this hand and put his fingers together to snap, but the glowing woman was already up and fighting again. He pulled one of the stones from the gauntlet and knocked her back like she was nothing.
Bucky scrambled to his feet, ignoring the weariness in every bone that screamed at him to stay down. He was ready to charge Thanos himself when Stark rushed at the Titan again. As Stark tried to pull the gauntlet from Thanos’ arm, Bucky saw what he was really doing. Stark’s gauntlet was pulling the stones from Thanos’.
Several thoughts occurred to Bucky all at once. Their spare time machine (Now that was a hell of a phrase.) had been the source of the explosion. So, the only way to keep Thanos and his army from the stones was to kill them all. Thanos had used the stones to wipe out half the universe, so why couldn’t someone use them to wipe out Thanos and his army? And, Bucky didn’t know much about Tony Stark, but he knew that the man was a genius and had definitely had the same thoughts. There was no doubt in Bucky’s mind, Stark was going to use the stones. His conversation with the sorcerer echoed in his mind. Using them almost killed Thanos. There was no chance he’d survive.
Thanos knocked Stark back and Bucky was by his side in an instant, ripping the gauntlet off Stark’s right arm and putting it backwards over his vibranium arm. He clenched his fist, both to break the joints so he could move his fingers and to hide the glow of the stones from Thanos, though he realized the Titan was too high on his perceived triumph to realize what had happened.
The power of the stones climbed up Bucky’s arm slowly, frying each and every nerve in it along the way. The pain choked every thought out of his mind and for a moment Bucky forgot why he was feeling it in the first place.
“I am inevitable,” Thanos said, and Bucky was reminded of what he had to do. Thanos snapped his fingers and the sound was hollow and empty. He looked at the gauntlet in confusion. If Bucky hadn’t been in so much pain he would’ve laughed. He concentrated hard on making Thanos and his army disappear, and James Buchanan Barnes snapped.
The pain shot up his arm like a bolt of lightning, blinding and white-hot. His other senses felt dull, the pain consuming everything else. There were panicked voices above him (Was he on the ground? He swore he had been on his feet a minute ago.) but he couldn’t make out what was being said or even by who.
Suddenly, the worst of the pain was gone, the white-hot flames that had spread as high as his jawline only embers now. It still hurt like a son of a bitch, but it was manageable. Bucky opened his eyes weakly (When had he closed them?) and his vision swam for a moment before focusing on Stark and Shuri, kneeling beside him. His now-detached vibranium arm and the gauntlet around it were a burnt and mangled heap between them, the stones glittering so innocently , like they hadn’t just destroyed a chunk of the strongest metal on Earth.
“Thanks,” he mumbled to the geniuses, struggling to sit up. Steve was at his side in an instant, hand gripping his arm tightly and eyes filled with the pain of I almost lost you again . “I’m okay, Steve,” he whispered.
The dust of Thanos and his army floated in the air all around as everyone got silently to their feet. They were all dirty and bloody and bruised but they were alive .
A few days later, the Avengers, Bucky included, gathered at the Starks’ cabin for Natasha’s funeral. Even after they said their goodbyes and set a wreath of red flowers afloat in the lake, everyone lingered. It felt right, even to Bucky, who had missed the fight to bring everyone back while he was busy being part of the everyone that needed to be brought back. This was what she gave her life to achieve. Having everyone here again.
It was Laura Barton who steered the afternoon from mourning to celebration by gently coaxing Clint into telling everyone what happened in Budapest, a tale the original Avengers had been eager to hear for over a decade now. One by one, almost everyone told some story about Natasha that got the group smiling and someone else talking. Soon, the stories branched off in all directions and began to overlap as the group broke into smaller ones. The grief still hung heavy over all of them, but Bucky was sure she would love to see them celebrating instead of crying over her.
He sat off to the side, just listening to it all. The spider kid from the airport, Peter, was regaling Tony’s daughter, Morgan, with tales of being a superhero. Tony’s daughter . He almost gave his life for the universe and left her without a father.
“Why?” asked a voice beside him.
“Hello to you, too,” Bucky replied, trying to muster a smile but only managing to make one corner of his mouth twitch. Tony sat down beside him slowly, giving Bucky every chance to tell him to go away.
“Why?” he repeated.
“One of the sorcerers said Thanos almost died using the stones,” Bucky stated.
“Yeah. Doesn’t really answer my question, though.”
“It would’ve killed you for sure.” He paused. “God, you’re just like Steve. Stubborn as a mule and physically incapable of backing down.” As soon as the sentiment was out of his mouth, he grimaced and wished he could swallow the words. Last he knew, Steve and Tony were on pretty bad terms. Shield to the chest plate bad. But, to his surprise, Tony grinned.
“Steve’s stubbornness is part of why we’re all here, so I’m gonna take that as a compliment.” He then gave Bucky a look that said he still wasn’t satisfied with his answer.
“I’ve got a vibranium arm. It may not hold a candle to whatever insane cosmic powers those stones have, but I figured it might hold up a bit better than plain old skin and bones.”
“What if it didn’t? You could’ve died.”
“I wouldn’t’ve regretted it…. I don’t know much about you. Every time we’ve met we’ve ended up on opposite sides of a fight. But, you were willing to die to stop Thanos. Hell, you were willing to die just to get everyone back, even though you had so much to lose.” Bucky looked over at Morgan, who was now half-asleep on Pepper’s lap. “In my book, that makes you a pretty good guy. And I could never regret giving a good man a chance to live.”
“You say that like you aren’t a good man,” Tony said quietly. “I usually hate to admit it, but Steve was right. It wasn’t your fault. And… I knew it wasn’t. I was pissed at Hydra for killing my parents and pissed at Steve for not telling me and you were right there and that was the closest I could get to punching them both at once…. It wasn’t right, and I’m sorry.”
“You had every right to--”
“I’m gonna stop you right there. Because no, I didn’t.” Tony gave him a look that dared him to argue.
“I’m sorry. For everything. A lot happened that I regret.”
“Yeah, same here. But, it’s in the past now. And I’m a futurist.” Tony fell silent for a moment, watching everyone. “Steve and I buried the past. What do you say me and you do, too, Buckaroo?” He looked at Bucky and smiled, soft and genuine.
Forgiveness… Can you imagine?
“Sounds good to me.”