Bucky doesn’t notice it, is the thing.
As a matter of fact, none of the usual suspects notice it. Normally after Bucky, it’s Wilson, and then Natalia. Those are the Big Three, and everyone on the team has a tendency to pay attention to everyone else, but everyone – Avenger or affiliate – watches Steve. He's their Captain, sure, but sometimes he's still stumbling through the century like a newborn calf.
The thing is, none of the Big Three notice it. Of all people, it’s Tony.
Bucky’s been free of HYDRA for about two years, and in the Tower for about six months, so they’ve all developed a routine. Like on Fridays, everyone available gathers in the media room to watch old movies. Tuesdays and Thursdays, Bruce does yoga in one of the gyms and anyone is welcome to join. Except Tony. Tony is never allowed to join yoga again. Today is Sunday, which means Wilson refuses to join Steve on his daily run – “It’s supposed to be Sabbath, Rogers!” – and is instead insisting on feeding everyone Sunday brunch. Which also means Bucky is his sous chef, because during his recovery he and Wilson would bake and talk. Everyone was the slightest bit more round and plushy by the end of that stint.
So it’s still kind of early, Steve is out running, and The Avengers are trickling into the common kitchen wearing onesie’s and making delighted grabby hands for their designated cups of rocket fuel that Bucky set on the counter. This is their routine. Barton and Natalia drink coffee from mugs with puppies and kittens on them, respectively. Bruce sips tea from a giant mug with the word ‘NOPE’ on the side in big green letters. Tony is positively chugging his coffee from a mug with a picture of Bruce and Pepper superimposed on the side. Dr. Foster and Darcy slip in wearing oversized Thor t-shirts and gratefully accept their coffee in matching mugs that say ‘fuck off’ in elegant cursive.
Really, The Avengers and Friends are all grumpy children in the morning.
Well, except for Wilson, because Wilson has a mug that says ‘Den-Mother,’ and his other favorite mug, which simply has a chibi drawing of their entire fucked-up family on the side. And maybe Thor, but he’s been off world for a while and Bucky hasn’t met him yet, but from what he’s heard, the man is sunshine and badass incarnate.
“Okay so now that I’m slightly more awake, Robocop, what’s up with Cap?” Tony’s tone is uncharacteristically caring and, well, affectionate.
“Whaddya mean?” Bucky doesn’t look up from his task of mixing the truly criminal amount of pancake batter.
“He’s been…off. He seemed kind of...distracted when he was in my workshop the other day. I don’t know, you live with him, has he been acting weird?” Tony shrugs but there is underlying worry still in his eyes.
“I don’t know. We don’t spend a lot of time together,” Bucky frowns at everyone else’s frown. “What?” He stops mixing pancake batter in favor of crossing his arms over his chest.
“Nothing. If there is something wrong, we’re all going to respect his decision to not talk about it if he doesn’t want to. Aren’t we?” Wilson turns around and plants his hands on his hips. The fact that he is wearing an apron with flowers all over it only makes him more intimidating. When he receives a collective nod he turns back to making the scrambled eggs.
Steve bursts in ten minutes later, nearly dripping in sweat. Clearly, he went for a very long run.
“Jesus, did you run all the way to Canada and then come back? How long have you been out?” Darcy is perched on the stool closest to the fridge, so when Steve goes to grab some water, Darcy opens her arms and gives him a quick peck on the cheek. Darcy had decided, when everyone finally settled in, that she was a hugger, and expected appropriate affection from everyone, and because Darcy is adorable and badass, no one argued. Even Natalia lets her cuddle up.
“Uh. I’m not sure. I couldn’t go back to sleep so I just started my run early,” Steve’s voice, when not yelling over the din of destruction, is soft, like his words are just ghosts passing through. A recent development, now that Bucky is looking closely.
“J, what time did Spangles leave this morning?” Tony doesn't look up from his phone, but it is clear that all of his attention is on Steve. As is everyone else’s.
“Captain Rogers left the premises at three-twenty-four am, Sir,” JARVIS replies smoothly.
“Steve, what the fuck. It’s damn near noon. You telling me you ran for almost nine hours straight?” Wilson doesn't turn around, but from the tense line of his shoulders, he is not very happy.
“I took breaks,” Steve ducks his head while he slowly edges his way out of the kitchen.
“You’re not staying for brunch?” comes Wilson’s indignant squawk.
“I need a shower.” Steve shakes his head and then he's gone.
Honestly, it wasn’t a strange interaction. Sometimes Steve goes for long runs and then immediately takes a shower and starts working on whatever he works on. The only difference was how much more attention everyone was paying.
“I hate to say this, and I mean I really, really hate to say this, but…Tony is right. Something’s off about him,” Barton pours himself and Natalia a third cup of coffee.
“Children,” Wilson’s voice is hard but he pauses in his egg scrambling to turn back to them.
“Just set the table,” his shoulders sag a little before he turns back to his various pots and pans.
Sunday Brunch is a quiet affair.
Bucky wasn’t lying, him and Steve really don’t spend much time together. After he got his memories back, after he got his name back, Bucky realized he couldn’t be the guy Steve knew back in the war. He is a mixture now, some parts Bucky Barnes and some parts Winter Soldier, all parts fucked up. He doesn’t avoid Steve per se; he just chooses to carve his own niche out of the twenty first century instead of clinging to Steve’s coattails. Really, he just doesn’t want to disappoint Steve when he realizes that he isn’t the old Bucky, isn’t the best-friend Steve knows. Maybe it came off as a bit of avoidance, but Steve wasn’t making a concentrated effort to be around him either. Bucky’s in his room sitting at his desk, trying to figure Steve out: he should be able to, he knows Steve best in the whole world, or, he did.
“Yes, Sergeant Barnes?”
“You watch everything right?”
“My cameras are limited to public spaces and certain rooms in living quarters.”
“Do you know what Steve is doing right now?” Bucky asks after a moment of hesitation. Of course, he knows where JARVIS’ cameras are in their apartment, and some other rooms he frequents. JARVIS pauses and yeah, it’s still a little weird to be living in a building with a mostly autonomous AI.
“Captain Rogers is…crying, Sir.” JARVIS replies.
“Is he okay?” Bucky feels his muscles tense and bunch and coil under his skin, his new arm whirring quietly.
“My sensors indicate that Captain Rogers is having a mild panic attack,” JARVIS says, almost sadly.
“Why haven’t you alerted anyone? Where’s Sam?” Bucky stands up with no idea of where his legs should go, but he should get to Steve, maybe. He was there for Bucky’s entire recovery, giving him space when he needed it and holding him in the middle of the night when the nightmares would get really bad, Bucky can at least see what was wrong.
“Captain Rogers enabled his privacy protocols during the first one, Sir. I have been unable to alert anyone of his maladies.”
“Then why are you telling me?” Bucky freezes in the middle of the room, unaware until that point that he was pacing.
“Captain Rogers made you his sole benefactor and emergency contact should anything happen to him. He has also instructed me to give you unlimited access to everything, should you ask. Your clearance bypasses his privacy protocols.” JARVIS responds solemnly, and Bucky has to take a seat.
“What do you mean by ‘sole benefactor’ exactly, JARVIS?” and Bucky almost doesn’t want to know the answer.
“If you would look to the screen, Sir,” a clear glass screen pops out of the ceiling silently, pages upon pages of information stacking on top of each other. “Several weeks ago Captain Rogers met with his lawyers to rewrite his will,” a copy of said will with a big red ‘CLASSIFIED’ stamped across it pops up, “as you can see, in the event of Captain Rogers’ death, you are to receive all of his financial assets, his stock shares, his motorcycle and cars, his military paycheck, his vacation homes in Italy and France, as well as his condo in Brooklyn.” JARVIS highlights the passages and then the loopy scrawl of Steve’s signature.
“You said I had unlimited access, right? So show me Steve right now.”
“He is on the roof, Sir,” JARVIS responds, clearly reluctant.
“And I know you have cameras everywhere up there, so show me Steve.” Bucky doesn’t know why he’s choosing to watch instead of bounding up there like his legs want him to, but he can’t. He can’t barge in on Steve like that, not when he’s pretty certain he is the reason for Steve’s crying. The papers disappear and in their place is a crystal clear live video feed of the roof. There’s not much up there, really, a couple of loose crates and a lounge chair for when Wilson ‘needs to distance himself from all of the stupid’, but somehow, Steve is still hiding. There’s a very well hidden door to the roof beneath a few layers of gravel, with a staircase that leads down into an assuming storage closet on the common room floor. Only the Avengers and Friends have security clearance for the roof. And Steve is…Steve is curled in a ball behind some of the crates, placed strategically so that he is hidden by their shadow. His shoulders are shaking and his face is hidden, but the audio is good enough that Bucky can clearly hear the shuddering breaths forcing their way out of Steve’s body. Bucky only watches for thirty seconds before he swipes the feed off the screen.
“How long has this been going on?” he grits out through clenched teeth. Any harder and he’s pretty sure he’ll crack one or two.
“This particular panic attack has immobilized Captain Rogers for the past five minutes and forty-six seconds.” JARVIS responds quietly.
“You know what I meant, JARVIS.” Bucky responds gruffly, hands fists at his sides.
“Captain Rogers has been experiencing these panic attacks for the past seven months, Sir.” JARVIS intones, resigned.
“What the fuck, Steve. Why wouldn’t he tell me? Or Sam for that fucking matter, or hell, even Natalia…” Bucky starts pacing around the room, muttering to the walls, trying to figure out the Steve Rogers he encounters daily and rectify him with the man he knew almost a century ago. Before he’s entirely aware of it, night has fallen, and he can vaguely hear Steve puttering around in the kitchen quietly. A few minutes later, Bucky hears the distinctive click-pause-click that means Steve is in his bedroom.
Unlike Bucky, he never locks the door.
The realization floods Bucky’s body with sudden guilt. He’s moving before he’s fully aware of it, and Steve’s door is before him before his brain has caught up. Breath in. Hold. Breathe out. He knocks.
“Come in,” Steve’s voice, soft and quiet, filters through the door.
When Bucky pushes it open, he’s greeted with Steve’s room, same as ever. Queen sized bed pressed into the corner opposite the door, glass drawing desk sitting next to the tall windows on the right. Pair of french doors near the foot of the bed, leading to Steve’s closet. It’s not an overly large room, and with a jolt, Bucky realizes that Steve gave him the master suite in his own apartment and chose to stay in the guest room.
“Bucky?” Steve is sitting at his desk, various glass screens in front of him, but only Steve can see their content. His desk is angled so that natural light can fall across it from Steve’s left, but also so that Steve can see all entrance points in his room.
“Hey, Steve.” Bucky steps into the room, just enough to be in the room, but close enough to the door that he can make a hasty retreat. And goddamn it, it shouldn’t be like this, he shouldn’t have an exit route or twelve mapped out in his head. This is Steve, the guy who literally pulled him out of HYDRA rubble and took care of him while he put his brain back together. Steve’s seen him the most vulnerable of anyone in the world and yeah, he’s been avoiding him, and now he feels like shit because Steve cared so much about Bucky that he forgot to care about himself. And fuck, because Bucky is happy, truly happy. He knits at Natalia’s feet while she braids his hair when he’s having a bad day, and the poor woman has more scarves and hats and sweaters than she should but bless her for wearing them all proudly when it’s chilly. He works with Tony on weapons schematics and spars with Barton. He bakes Wilson while they talk about anything and everything under the sun. He happily runs little errands for Dr. Foster and Darcy because they remind him of sisters he can hardly remember. He’s carved his niche, he’s content in his place in the world, and yeah, sometimes he still has nightmares and remembers the really shitty parts of his life, parts that he wishes he could forget, but time is a catalyst unto itself, and every new day that he wakes up and knows his name is a victory. But the entire time he’s been recovering and becoming a person again and becoming a part of this little strange family, he’s left Steve completely alone. And Bucky gets it, he does: Steve wakes up in the twenty-first century and everyone he knows is dead or dying and then his best friend shows up and it’s the only link he has to a life he knows, the only other soul on the planet that remembers Steve as he was before he was Captain America. And Bucky basically said ‘thanks for the help, bud, but I don’t need you anymore,’ then he turned around and fit himself into this group of people like he belonged there, and he does, he belongs there now, he is a fixture in other people’s lives.
But Bucky knows Steve, knows that he’ll never ask more of Bucky than whatever Bucky is willing to give him, he knows that Steve is just happy to see Bucky happy. Selfless idiot.
“Is everything alright?” Steve turns his body slightly, giving Bucky his full attention.
“Yeah,” and Bucky has no idea how to do this, “I just wanted to see if you were okay, you skipped Brunch.” As if that’s the perfect explanation for Bucky’s sudden appearance in Steve’s room.
“Yeah, Bucky, I’m fine,” but he’s not, Bucky can see it, his lips may be pulled into a hint of a smile but his eyes, how has Bucky forgotten what his eyes look like, his eyes are so sad.
“Are you sure? You can tell me anything, you know,” and Steve shouldn’t kind of light up at that pathetic excuse of sympathy. But he does, like somebody just raised the exposure under his skin, and suddenly the room is just the smallest bit brighter. Maybe Bucky can fix this.
“Yeah, Buck. I’m sure,” and then Steve gives him this smile, it’s not a real smile, not the smile Bucky can faintly remember coming from a smaller body and a smaller apartment, but it’s a little smile, it’s something. All things start small; it’s the most humbling lesson the universe has to teach.
“Alright, I’m turning in. Night, Steve,” Bucky pivots on his heel, heading for the door, one hand in his hoodie pocket, the other reaching for the knob. He’s halfway in the hallway and the door is half closed behind him when he hears a quiet ‘Night, Bucky’ float over the space between them.
It’s small, but it’s a start.