i love you, ain't that the worst thing you've ever heard?
Sometime in 2023
Even before he’s gone, Bucky knows he isn’t coming back. He can tell by the way Steve hugs him; a little too much like a goodbye, clutching on briefly. Just like he did when Bucky first left for the war, both of them certain that he would be killed within the first week but neither of them wanting to say so. Just like he did before they stepped onto the Wakandan battlefield to face Thanos, before the snap, both of them knowing they were facing, yet another, uphill battle that they were likely to lose.
If anyone were to ask, he would say he’s surprised but some part of him, deep down, isn’t. Not really. There had always been that hole in Steve that his life now hadn’t filled. No matter how hard Bucky had loved him, there was still always something missing for Steve. But this had come just when it felt like they were getting back into the swing of things, getting back to the way they were before the war, sharing a mattress on the floor of their place, lying a little too close. When one day, friendship blended into something more, morphing so quickly the two of them barely realised, just to be torn apart by all that unfolded with the war.
But then again, Steve had never really got over Peggy, she was always an unspoken loss between the two of them, that they both just accepted he would never be over. Still, it had seemed like Steve was starting to move on, or at least Bucky had thought - perhaps, naively.
Now, Bucky’s memory’s back, everything Hydra did pretty much removed, the snap reversed and they’re separated again.
No, not separated. Steve’s leaving. He’s choosing to leave him behind.
He wants to be angry. He wants to throw things, punch walls, shout at Steve and go all out, throw a tantrum like a lovesick teenager. How can he leave now? But instead, he takes one last look at Steve before he travels back to Brooklyn and paints on a sad smile, the back of his eyes burning from the tears he’s holding in. If this is what he has to do, this is what he has to do.
There’s talking. Something Bucky can’t quite hear through the muffling of his ears. Sam glances at him. Bruce presses a button. And Steve’s gone. Just like that.
And it feels like his heart has been ripped in half.
September 3rd, 1936
It’s late. Too late, as Steve comes in from another hopeless search for work, exhausted again and covered in dust. Another day, another rejection. Turns out, nobody was looking for an asthma-ridden boy to work for them, many saying he wouldn’t even last a week. But they didn’t know Steve, didn’t know how determined he was, how passionate and hardworking he was and how he never gave up. Then again, they’d never tried to know him, just searched for the quickest way to usher him out the door.
“Buck, I’m home,” He calls out, as he wanders into their shared ‘bedroom’, in the form of a mattress on the floor of what is supposed to be a living room. He doesn’t know what he expects to see but it’s certainly not Bucky pacing around, talking quietly to himself. “Bucky, you okay?”
“Huh? Y-yeah, I just, yeah.” Bucky mutters, snapping out of his trance. “Just thinking. How’d it go?” With a swift shake of his head, Steve replies, his eyes still focused on Bucky, who’s looking a little worse for wear.
“What’s wrong, Buck? And don’t say nothing because-“
“I think I’m a queer.” Bucky interjects, answering a lot easier than Steve thought he would’ve, as he sits down on the mattress. He was expecting the usual ‘I’m fine’ for twenty minutes, before either pretending nothing was going on or talking to Steve about it. “If you need me to move out, I get it, I just couldn’t not tell you now.”
“No, Buck, it’s,” Steve starts, not entirely sure where the sentence was going when he opened his mouth. He sits beside Bucky and finds his hand rubbing up and down his best friend’s back, desperately trying to show what his words won’t let him speak.
“Don’t you dare apologise, you’ve got nothing to be sorry for.” He utters and there’s that fire behind his eyes, back again with a burning fury that makes Bucky’s apologies immediately cease. “It’s okay, I— I understand.” And it’s not necessarily the right thing to say but Bucky seems to get it.
It takes everything in him not to tell Bucky how much he loves him, a feeling Steve doesn’t yet understand. Instead, he does the next best thing and pulls Bucky forward by the collar of his shirt, pressing their lips together. It’s awkward at first, both very clearly surprised by this turn of events but neither wanting to pull away. After a moment, Bucky relaxes into it, a softer and more gentle kiss than Steve had anticipated.
It only lasts a few seconds before they’re both pulling away and staring at each other, neither too sure what to say. Pulling Bucky into a hug, Steve buries his head in his best friend’s neck and holds him tightly, as his heavy breathing starts to regulate.
They’ve got so much to figure out but they can do that later.
January 4th, 2017
It’s been three weeks since Bucky’s seen Steve last, the longest gap so far.
He’s not really been too busy, Shuri said that although all of Hydra’s doings had been eradicated, it would be best for him to stick to a simple routine. Nothing too stressful. Long story short, he wouldn’t be going out, fighting with the Avengers any time soon. Instead, he spends his days farming, tending to his goats, reading and sometimes, cooking.
Truth be told, he’s not the greatest cook. Back in the days just before the war, he didn’t cook anything fancy for the two of them, just whatever was cheap and quick - usually stews, soups and boiled potatoes. But now, some of the Wakandans have taken to teaching them to cook a wider variety of meals. And surprisingly, he’s really taking to it. He’s been trying to perfect a meal using braised lamb, trying to cook the lamb perfectly that it falls off the bone.
Anything to pass the time.
But Steve sent a message earlier saying he’d be coming to visit today. And Bucky has been buzzing with electricity ever since, unable to sit still for more than ten seconds, before he jumps up to do something else, anything else. Every second feels like a century.
“Bucky,” Shuri pops her head around the door, just as Bucky is pacing around his room for the umpteenth time that afternoon. “He’s here.” And with that, he’s following Shuri outside to greet the quinjet, as it lands on the grass.
“Buck,” Steve says, as soon as his feet hit the floor, walking towards his best friend. His arms wrap around Bucky within a second and grip him tightly, as he murmurs in his ear. “I missed you. How’ve you been?”
“Better. You? How’s the secret mission with Nat going?” He replies, a mocking edge to his tone as he pulls away to look at Steve, his hands still resting on his arms. Steve fights a grin and tilts his head down a little, a tell Bucky loved to see whenever he would tease him.
“Good, we’ve made a little progress on the location but still need to do a full recon before we go any further.” He says, before going on to explain the ins and outs of the mission to Bucky, the only person outside of his fellow Avengers that Steve would trust with any of this information. The only person who really cares about the ins and outs of his everyday life, his person.
And it’s normal, it’s as if they’ve never been apart.
It takes everything he has to not utter those three magic words. To not grab Steve’s face and kiss him silly.
Sometime in 2023
The first thing Bucky notices is how silent it is. That is, until Bruce starts counting down and Bucky remembers that both Bruce and Sam are expecting Steve to return, waiting for him, even. So, as not to raise suspicion, he waits. For nothing.
The pain in his chest spreads down his arms and legs, consuming his entire body.
That’s when he turns his back on the machine, starting to walk away, unable to face the reality that Steve really isn’t coming back. Maybe if he doesn’t see it himself, it isn’t true. Maybe Steve’s still walking around somewhere in modern day Brooklyn, completing missions Bucky’s unaware of, instead of being back where they started. Maybe Steve will come to visit him again and tell him about the missions he’s completing. Maybe Steve feels the same way Bucky does.
Maybe Steve still loves him.
“Barnes!” Sam shouts, noticing Bucky not sticking around to welcome Steve back. “Bucky, where are you going?” He sounds concerned now. Bucky takes note of the fact that he isn’t being followed, that they’re still going to wait it out, which is fair enough.
It’s only when he hears the, now too familiar, sound of the time machine being booted up again that he turns back around. Whether he ends up hopeful or just gullible, Bucky doesn’t care - he needs to be sure. He needs to know that Steve stayed, chose the past over the present.
There’s clamouring, as Sam shouts something like, "Where is he?” And Bruce replies with something along the lines of, “He should be here!” Just as Bucky’s worst fears were starting to be confirmed, a figure appears through the smoke of the machine. The same figure that held him close many nights in Wakanda when Bucky had faced a hard day in the lab with Shuri, feeling a little too hopeless, broken down and as though he would never be the same.
Before he can think better of it, he runs forward to Steve, his Steve and tackles him into a hug. It’s more frantic than any hug they shared on the Wakandan grass. A little disorientated and confused, it only takes him a second to hug back, Bucky’s hands gripping onto that, god-awful, white suit for dear life, fingers trembling.
“Buck, it’s okay—“
“I thought you were gone, Stevie. I thought you were gone for good, I couldn’t do it, I,” He takes a deep breath and steps back, looking Steve in the eyes. “Why didn’t you stay there?”
“I went to see her, Peg. We danced, talked, she told me about her husband, her children, about SHIELD, and then she asked about you. Well, about us.” He pauses, a deep sigh escaping from his lips, a breath he hadn’t been allowing himself to take as he rushed through explanations. “I should never have even considered leaving. I love you, Buck. I’m in love with you. I always have been, always will be and I’m so stupid for not saying it.” He presses a kiss to the corner of Bucky’s mouth. “I love you.”
“I love you too, Stevie. God, we’re so stupid.” Bucky replies, his fingers skirting around Steve’s hairline at the nape of his neck. He takes a moment just to hold Steve, his Steve, the man who’s been there for him through all of his life, who he knows better than anyone else. And he does what he’s been wanting to do since the forties, he rushes forward and kisses Steve.
The kiss is insistent and determined, two words Bucky would use to describe Steve if anyone asked him to. They’re both so distracted they don’t hear Sam and Bruce chuckle and wander away, muttering cliches like ‘finally’ and ‘get a room’. It soon slows into a calm, relaxed kiss, one that Bucky could get lost in forever.
After all, there’s no rush. They’ve got all the time in the world.