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everything that goes with it (i thank you all)

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there were so many voices

screaming (maybe just loud, loud, everybody in his ears praying) shouting crying whispering help help help—

—he had to stand up he had to fight help wanda help thor he had to—

so many, so many, so many, where am i

where am i

what’s happening? fuck no not yet what what is this holy shit what the fuck jesus christ names and names and help him help her please please

somebody help

ple

 

It was a whole lot of nothing and then everything all at once. His fingers were tingling and he had to get the wings off before they crushed him.

Sam grappled to undo the harness, finally getting it open and scrambling out of the damn thing, wheezing for air on his hands and knees. It felt like his lungs’d been flattened and were just now being blown up.

Iventory, Wilson. Take it.

Badass if not annoying wings, check.

No grievous injuries, check.

Nothing coming to attack him?

He lifted his head and had to blink. Pushed his goggles up and stood. His feet splashed but despite his having been lying in the foot of standing water stretching across the plane, he wasn’t wet.

It wasn’t the forest.

Swirls and swirls of colors, coming and going so fast and so tightly screwed together that he couldn’t even tell what they were. There were shapes coming from the colors, things like crystals that made him want to take a step back because their size was enough to make him somehow even more unsettled.

“Red Wing, I don’t think we’re in Wakanda anymore,” he mumbled and pressed his hand against his comm. “Hello? Avengers? What’s happening? Anybody else seeing the tunnel from Willy Wonka over here?”

It didn’t even crackle. Utter silence.

He lowered his hand shakily, “Shit.”

Sam would be freaking out if his brain had anything to freak out off of. But he couldn’t actually process the... situation. It was too damn much.

where’s sam? does anybody have eyes on sam?

He whirled. Natasha, echoing off the landscape like he was in a four-cornered room. There’s no telltale crackle from the comm, and he took it out. No light blinking it on.

i’m—i’m looking, i can’t—

“Rhodey,” he barely felt himself say it. He dropped the comm.

i saw him—he was—here right now, he was here, he was right—

He kept turning his head to see them but the voice was everywhere. A dry taste like copper sat right under his tongue and he had to swallow it down to say, “I’m here. Guys, I’m—“

thanos knocked him out of the sky maybe he redirected

—everything slow, like flying through jello, falling in slow motion, can’t move, fight, there’s a fight and he can’t help—

Right, yeah he had. He’d been knocked out of the air. The leaves were a softer landing than he’d anticipated. The sky was blue.

There’s silence again. Just the water rippling whenever he moved to look around again. It stayed quiet for so long, he snapped his fingers just to make sure the emptiness in his ears wasn’t something he could worry about. Jesus Christ. He wanted to move, but he couldn't. He felt paralyzed by the shock and the lack of anything to process was—

 

like a flash bomb going off inches away from him

 

samuel thomas wilson you better answer me you told me this was your number the—tv the tv says theres an emergency a national emergency and im scared im on my way to pick up jody from school and there are accidents so many accidents people crying on the streets please answer sammy i just want to know youre okay I just want to know my big brothers okay please

 

guess were matched, huh? my kid dying in my arms versus your best friend—

"Sam?"

First time breathing again.

He gasped for air and a hand pressed into his shoulder to calm him down. His name was repeated, firmer, more careful. Despite the fact his ears were fully submerged in the water, he could hear it perfectly. When he opened his eyes, it was the first time he had the instinct to hug Bucky Barnes. He grabbed the wrist of the hand on his shoulder, just to make sure he was solid and not some kind of hallucination. It was the flesh one and Sam had the wild thought with how he was pushing his thumb in, he should’ve felt a pulse.

“Hey. Hey, man. Never thought I’d be glad to see your face.”

“You ain’t exactly a delight either, pal,” he responded, but he had the same waver to his tone. His eyes were wide, flickering over Sam’s face like he was making sure he wouldn’t disappear.

Sam wasn’t so sure he wouldn’t.

Another face swam into his peripheral, pale and worried, “Is he okay?” Sam had to blink a few times for the kid’s features to come into focus, and even then it wasn’t until he noticed the suit that he remembered.

“Bug kid,” he got out. “You’re the bug kid from the airport.”

“Spiderman,” the kid said and winced. “Uh, Peter, I mean. Peter Parker.” Then he stuck his hand out awkwardly and Sam could clearly see the instant regret of doing that flash over his face. And yet he didn’t put it down.

Sam glanced at Bucky, hoping he was communicating his utter confusion with a raised eyebrow. The guy shrugged like, You’re telling me.

Sam sat up slowly and took the hand with a single shake, “I’m Sam Wilson. I’ve been better but thanks for asking.” His eyes somehow went wider and he nodded. Sam prepared to ask where the hell they were but the question died on his tongue at the body floating over Peter’s shoulder.

Wanda .

All he could do was stare until Bucky noticed. He looked over with a pinched expression, “She’s okay, I think. You were just like the rest of them a second ago.”

The rest—

Sam swiveled his head and he had to stifle the yelp. Bodies. People. There was a kind of circle of more familiar faces around them but the more he strained his eyes the more of them he saw, for miles and miles. It didn’t stop. He shut his eyes to refocus himself and felt Peter stand.

“Yeah, it’s—It’s kind of terrifying.”

Sam took a shaky breath that didn’t even feel like it was going into his lungs. “Where the hell are we?”

“No idea,” Bucky responded. Sam had to look at him to see the strain in his jaw. “I woke up and I was alone except for this guy in a red cape standing over there,” he pointed to an empty spot in the water. “I tried getting his attention but he just disappeared.”

“It might’ve been Dr. Strange,” Peter said quietly. “He hasn’t come back yet so I don’t know.”

Sam pushed himself up to at least kneel, still trying to get himself in some semblance of order, “Who’s that?”

“A wizard,” they responded together, Bucky with a dryer sense of disbelief than Peter’s matter-of-fact tone.

He’s dealt with weirder shit. Like the situation they were already fucking in. It kind of suspended his disbelief with everything. He almost laughed. “Seriously?”

Peter nodded, “Yeah. Kinda.”

“Right,” Sam said faintly.

“He, um,” the kid struggled to find the words. He looked like he would’ve been tapping his fingers on the surface of the water if it’d been solid, making it splash all around. “His powers are all weird and psychedelic so Mr. Stark just kept calling him a wizard. He was on the planet with us. He was protecting the Time Stone.”

Sam scowled, “He clearly did a shit job. Thanos had five stones in Wakanda.”

Peter furrowed his eyebrows, “Yeah, that’s… I mean, it was to save Mr. Stark’s life but he had said he would rather both of us die than give him the Time stone so you have a point. I thought it was a fake.”

Bucky cleared his throat. His eyes were focused on his knees and he spoke carefully, like he wasn’t sure he should ask, “And. And what happened to Stark?”

Peter screwed his face up, thinking. The splashing got louder, “Thanos stabbed him… but he was able to patch himself up. He could’ve done more damage if Doctor Strange hadn’t stopped him. Are you sure it was real?”

Sam nodded immediately, “I saw him use it on Vision. Unless one of the other stones glows green and brings someone back from the dead,” both their heads jerk, “then it wasn’t a dud.”

Peter frowned and the splashing stopped in favor of him crossing his arms, digging his fingers into his biceps, “That doesn’t make sense.”

Bucky sighed and reached over to his left shoulder with his right hand, poking at the seam of the prosthetic, “Not much is making sense right now, kid,” before just popping it off completely with a grunt.

He tossed it in a short arc over Sam in Peter’s direction and Peter seemed to have caught it on instinct before realizing what had just happened. He yelped, almost dropping it, “M-Mr. Barnes, what are you—“

“Yeah, man, what the hell—“

“Fidget with that instead,” he said, motioning with his remaining hand vaguely. Peter’s eyes darted back and forth between the prostheses and the man it was meant to be attached to. Bucky rolled his eyes, as if he hadn’t just thrown his arm at the toddler .

Sam gawked, “Dude, don’t you think now’s the best time to have two freaking arms—“

“It ain’t working anyway,” Bucky muttered and poked at the space where it had connected.

There was a splash and a gasp in the distance. Bucky whipped his head up and Sam whirled to follow his eyes.

“Shuri?”

Yeah. Yeah, it was Shuri, sitting up in the midst of bodies, one of her buns undone so her braids were plastered to her face with the water.

“T’Challa? Mother?” She didn’t seem to notice them before she saw her brother, floating a few feet away, and she screamed. “ T’Challa —“

“Shuri,” Bucky said again, weaker, and got up, weaving through—through—Wanda, a brunette woman with a messy ponytail, a dude floating on his back with weird ass sideburns—before he finally reached her, his hand out. She clutched at T’Challa’s suit, flipping him, barely noticing Bucky until he finally put the hand on her shoulder.

“Who, um,” Peter whispered, the arm obviously appreciated with how he was starting to run careful fingers along the golden ridges, “who’s that?”

Sam swallowed hard and made himself look away as Shuri started whimpering, brother, ubhuti, please , into the quiet “Shuri. She’s princess of Wakanda.”

“Oh.”

Shuri must have finally heard anything Bucky was saying because she stopped, hands still shaking as they smoothed over T’Challa’s chest, the water rippling out in response. She listened to whatever Bucky was saying to her, low and calming. Closed her eyes for a brief second, wiping roughly at her face.

She made her voice louder as she stood up, “Now that I know my brother is not dead, and before I even begin to ask what the hell is happening, that white boy better not be holding the arm I just made for you, Jimothy Barnes.”

Sam ducked to hide his snort. Peter dropped the arm into the water.

“Tech’s a bust right now, princess, sorry,” Bucky said.

Shuri jerked her head to look at him and groaned, grabbing his arm and smashing her forehead against his bicep, “Then we really are in the depths of Duat.”

Sam pointed, “That’s been a better guess than any of us have been able to come up with yet.”

“That is because I’m a super genius, Sam, keep up,” she responded. She looked up and her eyes narrowed as they zeroed in on Peter. “You’re a new person. Who are you?”

“Peter Parker, your Highness,” Peter said, all rushed together, and Shuri grinned.

“As flattered as I’d be to have a loyal servant, I do not think I can do with the honorifics right now. I’m Shuri.”

Peter stared for a second before nodding. “Okay. Okay. Cool.”

“Alright, then—“ Her narrowed eyes looked more like squinting now than glaring as she zeroed in on Peter’s chest. She leaned forward and finally gasped, “Oh my gods! Are you Spiderman?”

Both Sam and Bucky groaned, Sam bringing a hand up to drag over his face, “Jesus, are we really—“

“Yeah! I am!” Peter responded enthusiastically and Shuri let go Bucky to wade through the bodies, now gesticulating excitedly.

“I have so many questions! I got into Stark’s files but the original formula for your web fluid is nowhere—get back to me on that— and your Twitter —“

Peter gestured at her with both hands, “Finally someone else who appreciates it!”, and Sam met Bucky’s dead-eyed stare with his own. Sam knew he was getting old when the rest was nearly nonsensical enough for him to not pay it any mind. He met Bucky in the middle a few feet away and muttered, “Aren’t they supposed to be prodigies or something?”

“Kids are kids no matter what,” Bucky grunted and rubbed at his face tiredly. “But it’s safe to say Shuri has no clue either. So we were either drugged—“

“I should’ve kept an eye out for Thanos slipping me a roofie, you’re absolutely right, Barnes.”

Bucky slugged him without force, blowing a hard breath out that lifted the overgrown bangs off his face. Sam snorted and leaned back on his heels, crossing his arms.

Shuri finally turned back to them, abruptly getting their attention with, “So I get we all don’t know where we are, but does anybody know why we’re here?”

Peter shook his head and Sam had to rifle back through his muddled memory to understand the answer she was looking for, “Thanos finally got all the Stones and snapped his fingers. That’s the last thing I remember.” He pointed at Bucky with his chin, “You?”

“Steve,” he said automatically. “I was walking toward him through the trees. Then everything got dark and I just kept hearing these—“

“Voices,” and Sam didn’t even realize he had said it until his voice echoed back along with Peter and Shuri’s. They all glanced at each other.

“That’s not unsettling at all,” Bucky said.

“Right, because the rest of this isn’t unsettling,” Peter muttered under his breath, eyeing the ponytailed woman’s body as it floated closer to him. He looked up sharply as if he had realized he’d said it out loud and his face went red. “Sorry.”

Sam could see the side of Bucky’s mouth twitch. “It’s fine, kid.”

“Not everybody’s here,” Shuri said quietly. She wrapped her arms around herself, starting to walk in a slow circle to look. “Okoye isn’t, and neither are Steve or Nat…”

Peter nodded carefully, the warmth of the orange making him look younger than he was supposed to. “Mr. Stark isn’t.” He pointed at Sideburns, who was starting to snore, “But I was with Mr. Starlord and the others.”

What kinda name was Starlord ? Sam shoved the thought away because it wasn’t priority but it was true: there was only some of them. Rhodey wasn’t here even though Sam had heard him speak and Thor had been not a yard away from Sam before blacking out, so.

“You two have a point,” Sam said and figured that maybe he needed a prosthetic arm to mess with too because he couldn’t stop rubbing a hand up and down on the stubble under his jaw. It just felt weird on his fingers, there but not, like his nerves forgot what it felt like before touching again. Just real fucking strange.

Shuri grinned again but it seemed more forced this time, one finger coming up to tug at one of her unraveled braids, “Of course we do.”

“It’s just weird, especially since—“ Peter’s eyes snagged on something and he put a hand on Shuri’s shoulder to turn her. “Shuri. Your brother.”

Shuri whirled. T’Challa’s eyes were blinking open as his chest started heaving. Shuri ran toward him with only some difficulty, picking up the extra fabric of her pants until she could finally throw herself on him.

T’Challa yelped and Sam heard it clearly even though he was submerged. He came back up with panicked eyes and Shuri hanging around his neck. He looked around, grabbing her around the waist in a protective motion as he started muttering a panicked stream of Xhosa that Shuri responded to with a quick, “It’s okay,” and her own Xhosa.

T’Challa jerked his head to look at the rest of them, just realizing they were there, “Bucky—Sam—“

“We have no clue either,” Sam said and the promptly almost fucking keeled over when there was another splash followed by a muffled scream.

Everybody snapped their heads toward—Wanda, the water around her starting to bleed—except, effectively, Peter, who was looking in the other direction with bugged out eyes. When Sam followed them briefly there was—

Now c’mon. There was the wizard, apparently, fucking floating a good few feet above the water but still laying down. There was a moment of everybody not knowing quite what to focus on.

Sam waved them off, turning back to Wanda. She wasn’t—Bleeding, he didn’t think. It was too dark to be actual blood, too… alive, in its own right. It stayed in uniform tendrils around her.

“I’ve got her. You guys go check out that weird shit,” he pointed at the floating guy without looking.

Bucky stared at him, “Sam—“

“I’m serious. I’ll be right there.”

“Okay,” T’Challa answered and looked back at the—Doctor, Peter’d said he was a doctor, right?. He stood up straight-backed, only leaning on Shuri a little bit. He made a motion to include everybody in, “Come on. Let’s go gingerly investigate the floating white man.”

Shuri deadpanned, “Yes, what fun.”

Sam watched them wade away, meeting Peter’s eye when he glanced back at him one more time. Sam nodded him away. He turned back toward Wanda and circled around to kneel next to her head. Her eyes were dully open despite half her face being submerged, shoulders shaking in heaving breaths.

“Hey.” Sam didn’t touch her. He stayed just far enough for her to see him but not to disturb. Her eyes stayed fixed on the ground. A weak sob. “Hey, Wiz Kid. It’s me. It’s Sam.”

She didn’t respond but he didn’t expect her to. He remembered the hours after Riley, barely able to speak. “Are you hurt? Physically? Can you sit up?”

She stilled, then, and so did the red. A solid mass of veins and cranberry juice. Her voice was hoarse, “Where are we?”

“I don’t know.” He swallowed the dryness out of his mouth and it tasted like pennies. “But we’re trying to find out. Can you come with us?”

She hiccupped. Sat up so her hair fell in a stream of brown over her shoulders. “Is it…” She looked directly at him, “Was it real, Sam? Is Vis gone?”

The screaming, the pulse of power disappearing through the trees. Thanos wasn’t the type of guy to take prisoners.

Sam didn’t look away, “I’m sorry, Wanda.”

She pressed a hand into her chest, like she could reach in and touch her heart. Her eyes fluttered.

“And Thanos?”

“We’re not sure.”

The colors started up again. They were less modern art, more scary blood bath. For a second, her eyes flashed.

“Help me stand, Sam. Please.”

The crackle of power that always seemed to follow her was still there, like heat off a fire even though she was stumbling. Destroying the Stone had taken a lot of energy. “You want me to help you or can you walk?”

Wanda shook her head, “I’m good.”

She wasn’t. But Sam let her, only keeping close in case she needed it.

The red faded everywhere except around her feet, and Sam could see green creeping in farther up ahead in the water like a bad dye job. From the body everybody else was surrounding.

“What is that?” Wanda asked and Sam had to stop himself from running to not leave Wanda behind.

“Someone who might know where we are.”

Wanda stood straighter and despite how wrecked she looked Sam would not want to be the one to fuck with her right now. Peter was detaching himself from Bucky, waving the arm around as he tried to wake up the guy floating face up in front of them. Beard a la Stark. Head twitching like this was supposed to be the goddamn Exorcist .

Sam could not make this shit up.

For a second, Wanda stopped like she was thinking the same thing.

“Doctor Strange?” Peter said again and of course Doctor fucking Strange , “Hello?” He glanced down at the arm and back up before poking him with it. “It’s me, Spiderman.”

Bucky snorted.

“I thought it would work,” Peter shrugged and turned back, eyes bugging out at Wanda, “Whoa! I remember you! From the airport. You had the telekinesis.”

Wanda nodded. “And you were Stark’s spider.”

“Yeah! My name’s Peter,” he held out the prosthetic to shake then realized he’d done it and stuck his actual hand out instead.

Wanda blinked and took it carefully, shaking it. She then looked back at Strange, “Is he not awake yet?”

“We’re working on it,” Shuri said and promptly smacked the side of his head with the back of her hand. It made him move as if pushed in the water, turning a bit, but it didn’t wake him up. When that didn’t work she shrugged, “Well, I have nothing.”

Wanda’s feet made ripples in the water from how she dragged them, carefully making her way over to him. Sam reached out, “Uh, hey—“

“I’m going to try something. Give me a minute” She said and positioned herself behind his head, Her eyes went completely bloodered in that second before they shut, her hands glowing the same hue as she pressed them to either one of his silver temples.

Shuri bit her bottom lip nervously, “Wanda, um—“

“I said give me,” her eyebrows furrowed, “a minute. I just need a minute. I want to, to—“

She stilled.

And suddenly lurched back, gasping, “No, on —“

T’Challa and Sam both reached for her but she went back to Strange, almost desperately, “No. No, that can’t be right. The Stone, he gave him the Stone, a-and the dust, it can’t—“

“The dust." Peter was quiet, getting quieter, "I forgot... Doctor Strange, he..."

He dropped the arm at the same time Wanda fell back. T’Challa caught her. The prosthetic disappeared under the water.

“She passed out,” T’Challa murmured, slowly lowering Wanda to lay down, half in his lap. He pressed two fingers to the side of her neck and froze for a second before she very visibly took a breath, looking up at Peter, “Did you remember?”

Peter nodded. He looked stricken. Ghostly pale. “I couldn’t breathe,” he whispered, the panicky edge in his voice back. He pressed a fist to his chest, “My Spider sense was warning me something bad was about to happen to us. My entire body was—I could feel it about to fall apart.”

Fall…

T’Challa was cautious, measured, “Your body fell apart?”

Peter didn’t talk. He lowered himself in the water, still holding the spot over his heart. “The people we were with. S-Starlord, and this big guy with tattoos and the girl with black eyes. They went first.” He let his hand lift to motion at Strange before it dropped again, “The feeling stopped after Doctor Strange did too. Then I couldn’t hold myself up anymore. I stumbled and Mr. Stark caught me. I was telling him I didn’t feel good, I didn’t—I was sorry. I was sorry.”

The silence was louder than Peter’s voice. That moment after you notice the grenade’s pin is missing. “Sorry for what, Peter?”

“I died,” he finished. His eyes were shining before they overflowed. “I died. I’m dead.”

It came like

                                          it had never gone at all.

All at once.

His eyes crossing so bad all the trees were blurring into a leafy ceiling above him. The comms were all feedback and questions and dead silence when the blue flashed in his peripheral. Rhodey was coming for him, calling his name, and he couldn’t open his mouth because his teeth felt bolted together.

Then black.

Then here.

Fall apart.

The endless landscape suddenly seemed too small a room. A crack shot through it and he wanted to run but his legs gave out. Bucky followed suit.

“Fuck,” was all he could manage.

Flying without wings, jumping without a parachute, Riley—

Dying .

Shuri made a wounded noise, pressing both hands into her chest so she went down for the count too.

T’Challa kept Wanda on him, but he was scarily still. He took a deep breath and shook his head measuredly, face struggling to keep calm, “I can’t die. I can’t leave my people again, not now. Not with how I’ve brought this war to them.”

“Kid,” Bucky said hollowly, “are you sure? Are you sure that’s it?”

A moment of silence that felt like hours. Peter choked on his response, “I felt it. I felt it happen. I felt my heart stop before it even started happening.”

Sam hadn’t felt anything. The memory was crystal clear but it was just a fade to black. End of the movie. Bye, bye birdy.

Peter took another breath, “Does this… does this mean we lost? Is this it?”

“This isn’t our afterlife,” T’Challa said immediately, his hand crushing Shuri’s as he scrambled to grab it. All eyes turned on him. “And believe me, I have visited it before. I would not be here.”

“Then what? The question still stands that we don’t know where the fuck we are,” he had to stop before his voice broke. He didn’t want to snap at T’Challa. But fuck . “It’s—We—“ He wanted to brush his teeth. He needed a stick of gum, even a glass of water, anything to wash the taste out of his mouth. It was making his head spin. All of it had set in and yet still wasn’t quite registering and the takeaway was that he didn’t want to be dead. He couldn’t be dead.

Bucky got up wordlessly and went in the other direction. Peter said his name shakily and Sam shook his head. “Give him… Give him a minute. I’ll go get him in a minute.” The water level felt like it was rising up around him, everything slow, submerged. Maybe Peter responded. He couldn’t really hear.

Sam was well-versed in death. Had seen it enough times, helped people through it to get the general idea, to form the opinion that he wanted to die old and wrinkly, after he decided he wanted to stop. That was one thing he could say drew a line between him and Steve. It made Cap blink at him when he’d said it out loud: he didn’t go into fights not expecting to come out. He’d even make appointments sometimes, promise to make lunch with Sarah.

Since being on the run it hadn’t changed. He would buy something sweet, a pastry, from their last location and say they better wrap things up quick before it got stale. He didn’t do that this time only because what he did have was that Bucky had named one of the goats Tweety.

“After you, if it ain’t clear.”

“I’ll hold you to introducing us when this whole thing’s over. About time I met Steve’s kid.”

And he knew, he knew Thanos was a bigger, badder guy than they’d dealt with before. Sam hadn’t fought the gods or the ones who wanted to be. He’d fought people. People were as bad as anything when they really put their mind to it, all that made this guy different was a Bedazzled glove.

Being wrong was a new feeling. It was rare.

He took his hands out of the water, ran them over the sides of his face, up to scrub at his hair.

Fallen apart. Dust. Did Rhodey see it? Could they vacuum him up, send him to his ma in a Ziploc bag?

He pressed the heels of his palms into his eyes then dropped his arms back in with a splash. He chained the direction of his train of thought. It happened. That was then. This was now. Focus on what the fuck to do now.

“I’m gonna go get Bucky,” he said out loud.

T’Challa seemed to have the same objective. Think now. The people they were with. There was this definitive glint in his eye, “I’m going to wake up Strange. We’re finding this out one way or another.”

Sam nodded and went.

Bucky was standing still, his arm crossed over his stomach to hold on to his side, tapping something out with two fingers. Morse. A 3-2-5-5, then he looked over his own shoulder when Sam got closer and stopped. Looked back but didn’t say anything. Sam didn’t either. He stopped on his left.

He was trying to put something to say together. The guy’s eyes were different, rawer than Sam’d ever seen them. All one hundred years bearing down.

“Sorry. I didn’t mean to walk. Didn’t even feel myself get up.”

Sam tilted his head down to look at his feet through the water. Still as glass. Darker than the sky of the landscape. Sarah would’ve called it auburn then called him stupid for not. “It’s fine, man. If you need a minute, take it.”

“I—“ His voice cut off abruptly. His hand tightened on his side. “Was anyone with you? Did anyone see you go?”

“I think Rhodey did,” Sam said carefully. He changed it, because he didn’t think bullshitting his worry meant anything right now. “I hope. He was trying to find me. It was the last thing I heard.”

He was going to ask him the same thing before he remembered.

Steve. I was walking toward him through the trees.

Sam looked at him again. Bucky’s eyes closed. “This is the fourth time he’s had to… I’d even told him a few visits ago that third time’s a charm. That he was gonna be stuck with me ‘till he’d want to get rid of me.”

Sam would’ve attempted a laugh if he wasn’t feeling so much. He shut his eyes too, just to remember it. “I said the same thing to my baby sister. I got a chance to call her when we were in Madrid, blocked number, no location to connect her with me. She was mad as hell. Asked me what I was doing running from the government with some white boy she barely knew. I told her I’d find a way to clear myself up just to move in with her and see if she still wanted me back after a few weeks.”

Bucky stayed quiet a couple of beats. “Did you— Was it—”

“Yeah.” He’d already thought about it. Replayed it in his head enough times, his last words with Sarah and Jodes. He opened his eyes. “Yeah. I got to tell her and my nephew I loved them.”

Bucky nodded. He swallowed hard enough that with the silence Sam thought he could hear it.

Sam recognized the way he was almost swaying. There was nothing solid about him, like he could—

No. Not again.

Sam didn’t think much of it when he got an arm around Bucky’s shoulders, pulling him closer. He’d never made it his job to be as touchy feely with him as he was with Nat or Steve, but maybe he should’ve, because Bucky didn’t tense like he expected him to but made a weak noise and leaned into him. He might’ve been crying, now, but Sam was damn sure he was too, so who could give a shit.

Strange was sitting up when they finally got back, still floating. It felt more morbid than before, to have to step over the line of compacted bodies to get to the bubble that Strange formed. Sam almost didn’t want to but Bucky pulled him through. They were linked at the elbows, now, and Sam thought it would probably take a lot to pull them apart right now. Everybody was standing again.

“We got answers yet, or what?” Bucky asked, voice rasping.

Peter took a shaky breath and took his head off where he had it leaning against Shuri’s, “We were waiting for you.” She had Peter on one side, T’Challa on the other, closely held together. Sam glanced at Wanda and she shook her head minutely, fingers digging into her biceps.

“Tell us,” she told Strange lowly. There was an edge to her voice, razor sharp.

“Once I tell you, mark that you can’t do anything to stop it,” Strange said. He focused on Bucky and Peter specifically. Sam felt him tense. “And I’m going to direct this at you two, because there is are possibilities in the millions where you each do. Don’t.”

Bucky narrowed his eyes, the side of his mouth curling, “I can’t exactly not do what you you’re saying if you stay so damn cryptic, Doc.”

“You all know we’re,” he held up two scarred, shaking hands, making quotations around, “’dead’. So to speak. When Thanos snapped his fingers, he allowed the Soul stone to absorb the energy of all the billions he was getting rid of. We’re currently inside a form of the Stone, to put it in layman’s terms.”

Sam held a hand up, and folded it to point, “Which ultimately happened because you gave him the Time stone, for some fucking reason.”

“There was ‘some fucking reason’ for it, Wilson,” Strange continued. He glanced down at his lap before raising his chin, “I have the ability to look into all the realities of our ultimate battle with Thanos. All the outcomes in all the iterations of our space and time to see if there was even a possibility of beating him or if I should just give up and go home to—“

He stopped. Sam didn’t know why it was weird to hear he had something at stake, something not of his grander purpose or whatever. The guy wasn’t exactly humanizing himself to them as it was.

Shuri leaned forward, “And?”

Strange looked at her. He swallowed and continued, voice still level, “There was a possibility. One in fourteen million that we would win. That one was among the five hundred and thirty-four possibilities in a smaller pool where I gave Thanos the Time stone and he successfully snapped away half the population.”

“How are we winning like this? We’re dead,” Peter got out. He didn’t look angry, at least not yet, but his teeth were grinding together. So the kid did have some spunk, good to know.

Strange nodded. “We are.” He looked back at Wanda, Bucky, and Sam. “They aren’t. The rest of the Avengers, the original pool and then some, are still alive.”

Sam let out a lost breath he didn’t even realize he’d been holding. Because, yeah, they hadn’t seen Steve and Nat and everybody else here, but there were a lot of buddies. Billions, apparently.

Bucky, unnecessarily, still asked, “Steve?”

Strange nodded. “It’s on them. They have to do it. And it’ll take a long time—Five years, for them. But they’ll find a way and bring everybody Thanos killed back.”

“Everyone?” Wanda asked. There wasn’t hope in her voice so much as a knowing the answer.

Strange looked apologetic, at least. He shook his head slightly, “I’m sorry. Everybody in the Stone.”

Wanda didn’t answer that. She looked away, hair falling over her face.

“I still don’t get how me and Mr. Barnes are gonna stop that, though,” Peter said. His jaw had stopped grinding to set, the cogs in his tiny head churning.

Strange met Sam’s eye on accident. He spoke to Peter but kept the eye contact, which was kinda fucking unnerving, “Someone that isn’t Thanos is going to wield a gauntlet with all the Stones during the final battle. They’re going to snap their fingers and do the same thing Thanos did to us to him and his armies. And it’ll cost them their life.”

The silence that settled was all encompassing and stifling in the bubble Strange formed. Bucky’s arm in his slackened with the knowledge it had to be somebody strong enough to hold all the Stones’ power and use it.

Sam had to swallow down his gasp.

“And there are certain possibilities where one of you try and help this person when they are going to get the Stones from Thanos. Or you simply rip them away because you know it’ll certainly kill them, consequently dooming all of us.”

He held up a single finger, “But we only have one shot. So you can. Not. Interfere. No matter what. I understand the risk in me telling you this early on so you might have some thought in your head there’s a possibility of it not happening. But I’m telling you. There is one possibility. Just one.”

“Is it Steve?”

Bucky sounded even more wrecked than when he had found out he was dead. Sam glanced at him and found he’d gone blood-white, though he probably didn’t look much better. He had one tight hand around the dog chains he had had under his armor a second ago. Sam felt the need to do the same to his, but he had given them to Sarah.

Strange once again surprised Sam with his sympathy. “I can’t tell you who it is. I’ve said as far as I can, maybe even more.”

“You’ve already told us someone is going to die,” Shuri said, strained. She took a step forward, “What difference does it make if we know?

“A big one.”

“You said it would be five years, for them,” T’Challa said with a slow, notable amount of calm. Though he didn’t show the same desperation as Shuri, they had the same set of worry to their eyes. “And for us?”

Strange finally unfolded his crossed legs to stand. Sam was irked at how tall the guy actually was, yeesh.

He shrugged, “Time’s weird here. Without the Stone, I can’t tell. As long as it has to. Could be years, too, could be longer than th—“

 

Sam woke up face down in fallen leaves. His heartbeat was an awful loud in his ears he didn’t realize he’d grown used to not feeling .

Distantly between the beats, he heard someone call his name. Then again.

“—am! Sam!”

“Bucky,” Sam whispered and sat up too fast, tipping over with a yelp at the weight of his wings. He shoved his goggles onto his forehead and waved his arms around wildly, “Dude! Over here!”

“Jesus H.,” Bucky gasped as he came stumbling into view, grabbing at Sam’s hands and pulling him up. He had both arms back, his rifle slung over his shoulder.

Sam struggled to register the forest, the sunsetting sky the same shade of orange as— “Was that—Do you remember—“

“Yeah,” Bucky nodded jerkily. “Yeah. Strange. He was talking to us, about time, about—How long were we—“

“I don’t know,” Sam said. It’d felt like forever. It’d felt like an hour. He didn’t— wouldn’t let go of Bucky’s forearms for the life of him.

His earpiece crackled.

He couldn’t make out voices. But there were the sounds of a battle. Thunder and clashes of metal on metal.

Then a crash and it all stopped.

Sam snapped his head up, “Did you hear that?”

Bucky nodded wordlessly.

A tree swayed nearby. Then it moved completely, a twiggy arm, legs, two giant eyes and a scared, “I am Groot?”

Sam was sure this should’ve been weirder. But he was also dead a second ago.

“Us too, pal,” Bucky replied. The tree—Groot, apparently, blinked at him.

And, of course, frosting on the cake of fucking traumatizing Sam today, the air behind him shifted and Bucky’s face shone gold before he jumped back and Sam went with him on instinct, wrapping his arms around Bucky’s middle with a short shriek.

It was a ring of something like a current the size of a small window cutting into the very space of nothing, looking briefly into a wasteland-like desert before Strange’s face came into view. Sam barked, “Man, you can’t do that shit—“

“It’s time,” Strange said, and didn’t have to elaborate. “There’ll be more of these. More of my guys coming in to help get you to the battle. Be ready. You have to get in there swinging on Rogers’ command. Good luck. See you on the other side.” He gave Bucky a last look before the window closed.

Sam swallowed hard. He realized he was still holding on to Bucky, Bucky doing the same, and he didn’t really want to let go.

“You got that, T’Challa? Wanda?” Bucky called. Sam whipped his head around. T’Challa was coming out of the wood on the other side of Groot, Wanda a few feet away.

They both nodded, T’Challa rubbing a hand through his hair, “Yes. We have to go inform Okoye and the others.”

They all sprinted out of the forest at top speed with Groot wound around Bucky's back, Sam eventually getting his wings back in order and pushing himself up into flight beside Wanda so they got there first by a few seconds. There were so many people crying and embracing each other on the square. Okoye and Shuri were sprinting out of the castle with Queen Ramonda at their heels.

“Sehkmet and Bast,” he heard Okoye exhale and she stopped to hug him briefly before continuing her run to meet T’Challa.

Shuri stopped at him, grabbing his hands in her own, changed into her battle armor and face paint. “It was real, right? Tell me it was.”

“It was,” Sam confirmed and squeezed her hands. “You have to tell your mom and the rest of the soldiers that Strange is sending some other wizards over here for transportation. It’s now. The fight’s happening now.”

She huffed, “Of course it is. I did not even get the chance to build my very large knife.” She peered over Sam’s shoulder and shouted, “ Umama !”

Sam let her go. He pressed two fingers to the earpiece to get another good minute of fighting, not even jumping when Bucky put a hand on his shoulder because of it. Wanda murmured a, “I’m going to go talk with Okoye,” before leaving.

“Sounds like someone’s kicking Thanos’ ass,” Sam commented, smirking at him.

Bucky gave a weak mirror of the smirk back but there was still that intense worry in his eyes.

Because. Right. Of course.

He’d almost forgotten.

Sam turned toward him fully putting a hand on his shoulder. Shaking him a bit. “You can’t focus on that, man. We have to be fully in this, okay? We have to win. We’re gonna win.”

Bucky nodded. He spoke low enough that he was quiet even to Sam, “That’s what I’m scared of, Sam.”

“I know. I know, because me too. But we can’t let that get to us. Barnes. Bucky. You with me? We’re gonna go out there and help beat that son of a bitch black and blue to match the purple. He took us out, made our guys suffer through that shit for five years. Only to now come back for seconds. We're ready for him. Whatever happens, happens, and we can get through it after. Right now, it's before, and from what I can hear, Cap's handing Thanos his ass on his shield. He'll be fine. We'll win."

Bucky took the hand off Sam’s shoulder to grapple at the chain under his shirt again, taking it out to clutch at it like his own personal life line. “Yeah. Got it.” He straightened up, taking a shaking, composing breath. He gave a less painful smirk, cuffing Sam’s arm, “Y’know, Steve’d be proud of that little speech. I’ll have to tell him he has a sub if he ever wants a day off when all this is over.”

Sam snorted and shoved him away, “Shut up. Imagine the scandal. A black Captain America.” Bucky snickered.

“Children,” Okoye called. Sam somehow knew she was directing it toward them. When he looked, she had a protective arm around T’Challa’s shoulders and despite her tone, her mouth was turned up at the corners, eyes bright with fight. She continued, “I need you to help me get everybody on the field. I will get the Dora, T’Challa and Barnes will get the tribes, Wilson can get the Jabari since you have more range with your wings.”

They all nodded and Sam said, “Sounds like a plan. Let’s act fast.”

“Certainly,” she responded and clicked her spear against the ground once before kicking off in a sprint that left a gust of wind in her place seconds after she was gone.

Sam realized there was an Asian guy in dark maroon robes behind where she’d been, the cut of them decidedly not Wakandan. He was talking to the Queen in hushed tones. T’Challa kissed his mom’s cheek before giving them both a thumbs up and running himself. Bucky went to join him.

Sam took off.

 

It didn’t take long despite the chaos. The people were eager to be back, but they were even more eager to fight back. M’Baku had actually hugged Sam at the news, probably dislodging one of his vertebrae with it, but it’s not like Sam minded, honestly.

They were all standing at the very front of the army. The battle in Sam’s ear had quieted considerably and Thanos had the nerve to fucking monologue, some bullshit Sam could barely hear but was still undoubtedly bullshit.

“Bullshit,” Bucky muttered beside him.

Sam said, “Amen.”

“I’m just waiting for the signal from the others,” the Asian guy—wizard—Huan, he’d said his name was. “We’re ready. Are you?”

“We are,” T’Challa said firmly.

"I am Groot," Groot said, conveying the same.

They were. Sam could feel the adrenaline practically replacing his blood, making him bounce on the balls of his feet like he was about to swing. He knew it was completely unrealistic, but he really thought he would sock Thanos in the face given the chance.

Speaking of.

The monologuing had stopped.

Steve made a pained noise in his ear, but there was no noise of conflict to preamble it.

Bucky’s breath hitched.

Huan motioned his arm out in a wide arc, speaking in a voice that carried, “It’s time.”

The chattering dwindled and T’Challa called something in Xhosa that echoed back.

Sam felt himself grin wildly. He gave Bucky a look and he’d finally let go of the dog tags, meeting Sam’s eye. He winked.

Sam snapped his goggles back on.

He took to the sky, clicking his tongue to turn on the two-way radio on the comm. Just to test if it worked, at the very least.

“Hey, Cap. You copy?” He said and Steve stopped breathing. Sam grinned wider.

"It's Sam."

Huan started opening the portal right there in front of him, the gold giving way to a battlefield. Sam smelled dust and lightning and victory.

“On your left.”

Chapter Text

There’s a lull in the battle, if that made any sense. Everything still seemed fucking hectic, obviously, no rest for the wicked and all that, but Bucky felt a sonic wave pass through him, singeing his arm, and the guy he’d been about to drive his fist into fell to the ground, gasping.

Bucky drew back, finally taking a single, unlabored breath to get his adrenaline to stop painting everything in an oversaturated hue. He uncurled his fist and dragged his palm up his jaw, pushing his hair away from his face.

He finally took in his surroundings. He wasn’t even sure if they were on Earth or not, but the crumbled building he could spot through all the dust had a self-proclaiming A on it, so he had to assume. Then a woman on a Pegasus descended and blocked his view and he had to shake his head out.

“Bucky!” Steve shouted and Bucky didn’t even have the time to turn his head toward it before he had an armful of Captain America.

He held him even tighter when he was suddenly lifted off the ground, spun around in a single moment of restoration. It’d only been hours, for him, but at the same time it hadn’t. He wasn’t sure if it was the knowing it hadn’t really been or if the linearity was really that fucked up.

But he planted his feet on the ground and took Steve’s face in his hands, just to look at him. He was all kinds of beat up, bruised and bloody and even the light prod of his fingers to Steve’s shoulder while he was being spun allowed him to deduce at least two things were definitely broken. But it wasn’t really anything Bucky hadn’t seen before.

Steve choked, his own fingers digging into Bucky’s sides and Bucky also had some idea that he had a problem there too, but he wouldn’t let Steve let go even if he wanted to. Bucky undid the buckle of his helmet and ripped it off, tossing it over his shoulder to run his hands through the duck-down spikes of sweaty blonde. His whole face. His whole gorgeous, idiot face and those Irish blue eyes.

He cracked a smile, “Heya, punk.”

Steve gave a real laugh, “Jerk,” despite the tear now making its way down his face. Bucky wiped it away, smudging the dirt. Steve pulled him closer to press their foreheads together for a second before finally just hugging him, tucking his face away into the crook of Bucky’s neck and inhaling like a doof because Bucky was aware he probably smelled like every kind of disgusting.

He was murmuring, You’re okay, you’re alright, and Bucky responded in the affirmative, tucking his flesh thumb behind Steve’s ear and rubbing it up and down soothingly.

The sounds of fighting had stopped. Bucky didn’t realize the biggest change until the guy he’d been about to deck just wasn’t there anymore.

He stiffened. He followed the trail of fading dust to another soldier, dissolving without so much as a sound. Then the lizard creature that’d been circling Rhodes simply went up in a plume of ash when he stepped on it.

Then Thanos. Great awful motherfucker he was. Fell on one knee. Sat down completely.

“No,” Bucky said, punched out, and tugged at the back of Steve’s suit, pointing. “Steve. Look.”

Steve whipped his head around, one arm still held tight around Bucky. His mouth fell open.

Thanos’ shoulder started cracking grey. He let his head fall forward before there was no head, no shoulder, no body, just like the rest of them. Nothing to mark he’d ever even been there except for the hush and—

Stark.

Tony.

Black and mottled all up one side, the Stones dimming after being used along with the light in his chest as he swayed—No, no don’t—and fell back against a pile of rubble.

Fuck.

Steve made a strangled noise and Bucky peeled the arm around his waist away, shoving him, “Go. Go.”

Steve have him a look, a wild one, “Buck—“

“I ain’t going anywhere, Rogers,” he pushed him again, taking a step away. He felt his chest get tight. “Go.

Steve nodded. He turned tail and sprinted toward Stark, nearly tripping before the big blonde guy that had to be Thor righted him on his way too. Rhodes was already there, putting a hand in Stark’s hair.

Bucky could only watch, numbly horrified. Someone brushed his shoulder and he nearly jumped before Sam said, “Oh no.”

“Yeah,” Bucky answered hollowly.

Peter landed next, stumbling over his feet and skidding onto his knees, mumbling out his own pleas, clutching at Stark’s suit. Then Potts.

Bucky turned away, then, he and Sam both did. Because if—if it had been Stevie—

He thought an I’m sorry and hoped Stark somehow knew he meant it. For everything.

You can rest now carried out across the field. It commanded silence, a moment of mourning. The world listened because not even the wind blew anymore and the sun seemed to dim alongside Stark’s light.

When Bucky turned back, it was gone. Potts’ head was bowed, shoulders heaving, bracketed by Rhodes’ hand pressed into her back and Peter leaning into her side.

Bucky felt someone come up behind him this time, mostly because they—she was crackling with something. He side stepped her since she didn’t really seem to notice him, striding over toward the vigil with a set determination. The shooting star, their scale tipper, shimmering slightly.

She picked up the hammer Steve’d dropped when he’d been running toward Bucky on her way.

Sam made a noise.

She crouched beside Potts and the others, saying something to them under her breath before Potts nodded carefully and allowed her the space to put both hands on Stark’s shoulders. She directed her next words to Thor and Steve, motioning toward the hammer.

Thor sent Steve a look but Steve jerkily shook his head and said something back. Thor kneeled beside her. He picked up the hammer. She nodded and looked back.

Sam grabbed his arm, “Dude, what are they—“

“I have no clue.”

She lit up, for one. Went supernova right then and there, enough that Bucky had to shield his eyes with one hand. Faintly, he registered the sound of thunder, a shouted, “Now,followed a familiar gasp through all of it that made him freeze.

The light finally went back into her and she pulled away to give Bucky a front row ticket to a hacking, undoubtedly alive Tony Stark. Thor dropped the hammer in his shock.

Bucky heard Sam smack a hand over his mouth, meeting his eye with a gawking, “What the hell.”

“Did she just—“

“I think she—“

Shuri seemingly materialized at Bucky’s other elbow, equally surprised, “Who is that?”

“Carol Danvers,” said another voice and Bucky had almost forgotten about the raccoon. He was holding Groot’s hand, giving them all an upraising once over. “Also known as Captain Parcel.”

Groot elbowed him. “I am Groot.”

The raccoon wrinkled his nose. “Huh? Marvel? The hell, I’ve been saying it wrong the whole time, then, no one corrected me. Wait, how do you know that—“

The guy with the shrinking suit poked his head over Bucky’s shoulder (and Bucky should probably know his name, but due to the fact his brain had just been a pile of dust less than a few hours ago, among other things, his memory just wasn’t that great these days), “Did they just bring Tony back to life?”

“That’s what it’s looking like,” Sam responded.

Peter cried out and threw his arms around Stark’s neck. Stark winced, patting Peter’s back before the kid ripped away, wailing, “Oh my god, I’m sorry!” Potts put a reassuring hand on Peter’s shoulder with the same movement she cupped Stark’s cheek.

Both she and Stark turned to look at Parcel—Marvel as she stood, brushing something off her suit. Stark’s voice crack was loud enough to hear despite their distance, “Uh, Cap, Pointbreak, what the fuck was that?”

“We should probably get in on this,” Sam muttered close to his ear and Bucky nodded enthusiastically, more than happy to get some sense of clarity apart from uh, holy shit, they essentially had two gods on their team.

They caught the tail end of Marvel’s, “…power into you. You weren’t dead, yet. You just needed the energy and the jumpstart. Like a car battery.”

“Now I’m a car battery,” Stark said faintly, bringing a hand up to his forehead.

Rhodes dropped his head to be at eye level with him, asking very seriously, “Tony, would you rather be dead or a car battery?”

“Ask me after this stops hurting as much as it does.”

Thor scooted back. He stopped when his back hit Steve’s legs. Bucky watched him look between the hammer and Tony before finally up at Steve, “I can’t believe that worked.”

Steve swallowed hard, nodding. He spotted them getting there before anyone else, eyes sliding cleanly from Bucky’s face to Sam’s. They widened and he moved so abruptly that Thor fell back with an oof, throwing his arms around Sam’s neck with a, “Jesus, Sam.”

Sam grinned, returning the hug with two hard bumps to Steve’s back, “I know I didn’t see you wielding Mjolner back there, Cap.”

“Definitely get your eyes checked,” Steve answered promptly, pulling back to scrub at his face. He gave Sam the same (well, not same, definitely not the same) once over he’d given Bucky, deeming him well enough. His smile was starting to grow.

Shuri shoved between both Sam and Bucky, smirking wolfishly, “And what am I, Steven, chopped—“ She yelped as Steve scooped her up and lifted her off her feet in a crushing hug. She wheezed, smacking at his shoulders, “Okay, okay, I give, I didn’t mean it—“

“I missed you,” Steve said affectionately, giving her one more squeeze for good measure before dropping her. She stumbled back into Bucky, making a monotone noise of breath.

Steve was showing the whole world his blood-stained pearly whites and Bucky had the urge to very seriously rub all that off with the side of his finger like how their mas used to but resisted in favor of saying, “Steve, your teeth. You’re scaring the children.”

“Please, I lost a molar back there,” Shuri retorted, swirling saliva in her mouth before spitting a mostly red gob of it onto the ground.

“Shuri, that’s fucking gross,” Bucky stated.

“Truly,” T’Challa agreed as he came up with them, his mask fading away as he gave Steve a warm smile. The guy was un-fucking-marred. Christ. He held a hand out toward Steve that Steve used to pull him into another life-affirming hug.

It was only interrupted when Rhodes yelled, “Hey!” They all looked over. He threw his arms up, coming at them, “No one told me we were doing the reunion thing yet!”

“Yeah, I just died,” Stark added. “Give a second of reverence for my resurrection.”

Sam barked a laugh as he and Rhodes bumped fists before hugging, pointing at Stark over Rhodes’ shoulder, “Yo, we did it first, get in line.”

Stark waved him down, “But I did it killing the bad guy—the baddest guy, might I add, we’ve ever faced—“

A different kind of horror dawned on Steve’s face, “Christ, he’s never gonna let us live that down—“

Potts’ voice was deceptively calm, “Boys, do you think we can continue this bit somewhere with medical attention?”

“Sounds like a plan,” Bucky agreed and Rhodes got to him next.

He muttered an apology in Bucky’s ear and Bucky did the same. Bucky’d never had anything against any of them—The things he’d done, the anger was justified. If anything, he still didn’t really think they should let him off the hook so easily. But he guessed maybe five years was enough.

Bucky muttered, “So are they…” He glanced over at Steve helping Peter get Stark on his feet, Stark feebly kicking at Steve’s leg with a chorus of, This fucking sucks, this fucking sucks, thi—shit fuck—ing sucks. It just about answered his question but he couldn’t be sure.

Rhodes pulled away to look, snorting. “Them? Please, the second they called truce they were back on their bullshit. All that shit looks small in the face of this, huh?”

Bucky nodded, cracking a grin, “Pretty much anything looks small in the face of aliens, I think.”

“You’re probably right. Moral of the story is we’re never gonna let something like that divide us again.” Rhodes held his hand out. “Nice to finally meet you, Sarge.”

Bucky shook it, feeling some note of what had to be absolution. It wasn’t Stark, it didn’t dent that safe, but it felt good to know he had something like this. “Thank you. Seriously. And Bucky’s fine.”

Rhodes made eye contact with someone over his shoulder and nodded, grinning, “Then so’s Rhodey.” 

He walked off to meet with Wanda and a—it spoke wonders he was barely surprised—a blue woman. Or robot. He wasn’t sure. He just knew he lingered too long and her black eyes immediately raked over his arm, more in the sense of, You too?, than blatant curiosity. Noted. He turned away and blinked as Strange appeared out of thin air a few feet away. Sam jumped back at the same time that the raccoon yelped and Shuri cursed, loudly.

“I.” Sam said, mouth opening and closing before shoving a finger into Strange’s chest, “I hate you.”

Strange rose an eyebrow, but Bucky could tell he thought it was funny. Bucky tapped his arm. He jerked his shoulder at Stark. “You were wrong.”

“Yeah,” Strange agreed, taking a step back to allow Wanda through to hug Steve. “I was. I can’t exactly say I’m disappointed about that, though.”

Stark grunted as he was passed off from Steve’s shoulder to Potts’, Steve then coming to stand next to Bucky. Stark waved a vague hand around, “Alright, so who’s peacing out and who’s joining the pain train? We have first-aid back at my place, but I don’t know if, ah,” he looked pointedly toward the woman with the Pegasus, “there’s the space, exactly—“

Tony Stark? Not having space? How much had actually changed?

Thor finally stood, willing his axe into his hand along with him, “I’m going to join Valkyrie back to New Asgard. If everybody has been returned…” He smiled, bringing the axe up to hold it with both hands excitedly, “We have a lot of work to do.”

The raccoon motioned at the gaggle of people around him—the guy Peter’d called Starlord among them— “Yeah, and we’re coming with.”

“I gotta go home,” Barton said from behind. Bucky turned to catch the bittersweet twist to his mouth. “I need to see my family.”

There was something off about it. Bucky stared at him. Dread started dripping down his spine.

Thor’s smile faded for a moment and he tilted his head solemnly, “I’ll take you.”

“We’re going back to Wakanda. We have to reestablish everybody who is returning, including myself,” T’Challa said, carefully looking over all the suddenly downturned faces of the people who hadn’t been dusted. Bucky finally met Steve’s eye and he loosely grabbed Bucky’s hand in his own as the others hashed their destinations out.

It was more to ground himself than for affection, and that’s when Bucky realized he hadn’t seen Natalia.

He raised his eyes to Steve’s again. Mouthed her name in a question.

Steve grimaced.

His heart plummeted. He gripped Steve’s hand for himself, leaning against him to make himself calm down. Steve slid the hand up to hold him around his shoulders, pressing his face into Bucky’s temple, nodding.

Natalia, who had survived the Red Room and all of HYDRA’s fuckery and come out still fighting, better than him. Who would come with Steve to visit him in Wakanda without disguising it was to see him, greeting him in her princess-like Russian and a beaming smile, Milyi, did you miss me? Who allowed him to talk about the Soldier on the roof of his cottage without the pity, the judgment, as long as she could talk about the Widow, too.

They were two sides of the same coin. The one other person that understood him better than even Steve.

Fuck,” he breathed and it came out Russian, harsh and cutting his tongue.

“What’s up?” Sam asked lowly on his other side. Bucky wanted to say it but he couldn’t make his voice work. So Sam turned to Steve. “Steve? What happened?”

Steve gave a weak breath. “I guess it's time everybody knows.” He held Bucky tighter and flagged his arm up so everybody’s voices went quiet.

“Before you all have to go, there’s something we have to tell you.”

 

There’s a moment of silence. Bucky let himself cry silently, head bowed, and only then did it register.

They’d won.

Because of her, they’d won.

Dasvidanya, milaya.

Chapter Text

steve

Wakanda was the best option for those who’d been returned to get help, with only some exceptions, namely Bruce and especially Tony because they couldn’t be sure how the Stones would affect them. But Bruce insisted he could check it out himself in New Asgard and Tony didn’t want to, at least not without his daughter, and Steve didn’t want to intrude, then, even if Wakanda had become a second home to him with Bucky there. Bucky hadn’t even said anything, just followed Steve to the quinjet Rhodey was loading up, and Steve wanted to protest because Wakanda was his home, but he had missed him so fucking much.

He spent the quinjet ride with Bucky tucked into his side, nose buried in his hair. Sam had his head on Bucky’s other shoulder and they were both uncharacteristically quiet. The only people really talking were Queens—Peter and Tony where he was laid out on a makeshift cot, hushed and careful after having called his aunt to tell her where they were headed and that they would get her a flight as soon as possible. Pepper and Rhodey would add something every so often from their seats in the cockpit.

They’d won.

The thought had yet to settle into his head, mostly because of how many roads it was attempting to cover at once. The buzz of having wielded Mjolner was still running up the veins of his arms, into the heart of him like he’d managed to swallow down some of the lightning as he’d summoned it. He still couldn’t believe it’d been real, just like the head on his shoulder was doubtful. Mass hallucinations could happen, especially in times of high stress.

He still had hope parts of it were. Coming back from 1970 and turning to smile at Nat, to tell her about Tony and Howard and how he’d successfully—

Bucky turned his head so his face was buried into Steve’s throat. Steve pressed his cheek closer against his forehead, shutting his eyes briefly to push the force of the grief away. He wasn’t alone in this anymore.

Sam made a forced, scoffing noise, muttering, “Barnes, you better not be getting mushy with the good captain while I’m on you.”

Bucky laughed in such a way that Steve barely felt it, let alone Sam hear it, but his voice was all business, “Is that a note of jealousy I detect, Wilson?”

Rogers could detect the squabble from miles away and something in him surged for the familiarity. For the fact that he knew why they were doing this.

“Hell yeah it is. What, you get the golden breast of America, and I get a cold lump of metal—“

Bucky lifted his head up minutely, “I can’t exactly help the lump of metal, now can I—“

“Don’t give me that excuse—“

“Oh, that excuse—“

“I missed you guys,” Steve said quietly. He didn’t even realize he’d said it out loud until they both stopped bickering to look at him, Bucky instantly going soft around the eyes and Sam’s sneer faltering for a more genuine thing.

Then both those expressions curled into smirks, not as forced, sharks smelling Steve’s stupidly affectionate blood in the water, why did he even open his mouth?

Bucky leaned into him, batting his eyes, “You missed us, Stevie?”

Sam did the same, touching a hand to his chest, “Steve, I’m touched—“

Steve didn’t let them deter him because that same swell of feeling rose up again and—he realized—

“I did,” he repeated. “Really.”

Because it used to just be Bucky. That’s how it went; even when he’d had nothing, when his mom finally got peace and he buried her with what’d been left of his dad, Bucky was at his side, offering him a place to go. Bucky making sure he didn’t choke on thin air while he slept, Bucky buying him a new set of charcoals for his birthday even when he shouldn’t have, Buck pushing all the furniture to the four corners of their tiny ass apartment to make Steve stand up from yet another marathon of being hunched over some new print and dance with him to the tune of Kitty Kallen.

Bucky loving him, above all else, always.

Then he couldn’t even have that. Then nobody knew Steve Rogers anymore, and Captain America was all he could be.

But Sam didn’t put up with his bullshit and Nat could always look through brittle walls and he got Bucky back, despite the cost—

“You’re my family.” He said, finally, pitching his voice even lower because Tony and the others, they were family, but he’d pushed Tony away on guilt’s heavy wings and he’s just now getting that back, but he’d lost them. “And we’re all a family but you understand what I mean. You guys— I trust you above all else. Everybody else. And Nat—“ He shook his head. “I missed you. That’s all.”

They stared at him. He didn’t think he had to add the fact that Nat—

That he would miss her too. Forever after.

Bucky brought his hand up to cup Steve’s cheek so softly Steve had no choice but to melt into it. He took a shaky breath, tucking a press of his lips to the point of Bucky’s pulse, gloriously loud.

His voice was careful, “We left you for a long time didn’t we, Stevie?”

Steve looked back up, “It’s not like it was your fault—“

“It ain’t. But that doesn’t mean the fact it hurt you isn’t valid.”

Sam whistled low, “Look at Barnes using the big boy psych words—I’m proud.”

Bucky’s pinky twitched against Steve’s jaw and his voice went drawling, head falling in Sam’s direction, “All I want is your validation, Sam, can’t you hear my cries?”

Sam elbowed him, breaking the tension, finally, “Alright, now you’re just being patronizing—“

“What do you want from me?”

Steve grabbed Bucky’s wrist and tugged, hissing despite the laugh bubbling up his throat, “Do I have to separate you two?”

“You know we’re entertaining,” Sam dismissed.

As they touched down, Steve could see Happy sitting on the comically small chair outside of the child-size tent a ways from the house. He glanced over at Tony and Pepper to how they fixated on it, gravitating toward the window. Tony lifted his bad hand up to his face and muttered, “Jeez, the kid’s gonna get a hell of a fright.”

“The…” Peter started quietly before realizing, eyes widening, going louder, “The kid? What?”

Morgan came out of the tent, a bobblehead of another prototype mask Pepper’d told Steve she kept getting into. She waved her hands wildly at the ship as they landed, grabbing Happy’s sleeve and tugging to point as if he couldn’t see.

Peter covered his mouth with both hands, gasping. He gave a soft little, “Oh. Oh. Oh my god, Mr. Stark—“

“Pete, I distinctly recall you calling me by my first name on my death bed.” He finally ripped his eyes away from his daughter to poke a finger into Peter’s chest, “Let’s keep it that way. Formalities just kinda make me, like, more tired. Somehow.”

“Same here,” Pepper agreed and Peter gave a small squeak.

He stared at them before nodding, dropping his hands to lean over and get a better look. Steve felt Bucky do the same next to him, craning his neck over Steve’s shoulder.

“T-Tony. Pepper,” Peter said carefully, a smile twitching onto his mouth. “Is that your daughter?”

Bucky and Sam both swiveled to give Steve bugged out eyes to match Peter’s. He grinned.

Tony shifted with no small amount of pain to squint and gasp dramatically at Morgan running up to the landing pad with Happy on her heels, “No, what the—Oh my god, is that a gremlin—“

“Tony,” Pepper said, exasperated.

“That is indeed my kin, Pete,” Tony said instead, switching gears and slumping back down. “Morgan P—Eh. Maria Stark.”

Sam raised his hand, “Huh? What was that second one? I didn’t quite catch it.”

Peter shook his head in agreement, “Yeah, me neither.”

Steve knew what it was. He just leaned back against Bucky’s side and let Tony flounder, though, because that was more fun.

“He said it,” Rhodey answered flatly. He motioned to Tony with one hand. “’Peh.’”

“It’s Peter,” Pepper said instead, standing. She met Tony’s betrayed look with her own sad smile, “We’re not doing this. Not today, at least. Let’s just be glad we have them back.” She met Peter’s slack-jawed face, then, and took his hand with a gentle squeeze, “You can’t even begin to know how much you mean to him. To me.”

Steve could see Peter’s eyes watering from here, face going blotchy, “Oh.” He reached up to hug Pepper, hiccupping, “Okay. I mean, I guess I do now.”

“That doesn’t mean I don’t have full authority to take it back now that you’re actually still alive,” Tony said without an ounce of sincerity and Peter got him next, and if it hurt this time, Tony didn’t show it. They broke apart only for both of them to rub at their faces.

Rhodey landed them smoothly, the second he touched down punctuated by Tony making the valiant attempt to stand on his own but immediately tipping over into Pepper, who held on to him and kissed his cheek reassuringly to his great and almighty chagrin. She put the same arm around his waist that Bucky got around Steve’s because with the adrenaline worn off, he’d realized halfway through the plane ride the blood dripping around everywhere was coming from where he’d been stabbed in the thigh. Not an artery, he didn’t think, he wasn’t too light headed, but he couldn’t exactly think straight.

“Smartin’, Cap?” Tony asked in a frankly awful butchering of a Brooklyn accent, standing at his side as the quinjet doors opened. Sunlight streamed in to light on all their injuries and Tony’d been right, they really did look a fright with all the blood and black.

Steve grinned. “Ain’t too bad, though.”

Morgan’s barreling inside before the ladders even fully dropped, Tony dropping down on one knee to catch her as she yelled, “You’re back!” Her helmet bumped what had to be painfully against Tony’s head but he kissed the temple of it anyway, wobbling back to his feet to pass her off to Pepper, getting the helmet off and dropping it back in the grass.

Her cheeks were pink and her hair stuck up in all directions despite Tony’s truly valiant efforts to smooth it down. She kissed her mom’s forehead and pointed at her suit, looking back at Tony, “See Daddy, she’s wearing something you gave her.”

“She sure is, principessa,” Tony choked out.

Morgan reached out, touching his marred cheek. She pulled back the hand and kissed it before patting it on again, “You look like a burnt pizza bubble. Does it hurt?”

Steve didn’t have to look to identify the awful laugh as Sam’s.

Tony shook his head, taking the hand and kissing it himself, “No, no, not after that healing kiss, it doesn’t. I can feel myself getting better already.”

She smiled. And if Steve felt his heart melt, he couldn’t even imagine Tony.

They hobbled back inside after another round of tearful hellos to Happy, as much as he’d later deny he was crying too. He’d insisted on knowing the body count when they’d called him on the way over and Pepper quietly told him about Natasha. They set up shop in the living room, Rhodey going to get the first-aid kit.

Steve hesitated as Bucky made to drop him on the couch (they’d used a binding liquid from one of the suits to staunch the bleeding, but he wasn’t not leaking) but Tony did it himself and patted the spot next to him, “C’mon, Cap, I hated the color of this anyway.”

Steve obliged all too happily. He looked expectantly for Bucky to join them but his eyes were only then darting back from glancing at Tony. He didn’t say anything about it, bending to press a kiss to Steve’s temple before motioning, “I’m gonna help Sam and Ms. Potts set everything up.”

Steve wanted to say, You don’t have to call her Miss, but Bucky was acting too strange for it to be endearing.

Steve felt the confusion blur into his voice, “Okay,” and if Bucky noticed, he didn’t say anything. He watched him go.

When he looked back, Tony was giving him a shit-eating grin regardless. “So you got your guy back.”

“Yeah,” Steve said. He pressed a hand over where he knew the dog tags were still tucked under his suit. “Yeah, I did. And you got the kid.”

Tony nodded, head falling back against the cushions with a quiet kind of smile. As if on cue, Morgan came by, dragging Peter with her, crawling into Tony’s lap and sitting with her back to his chest. He brought an arm up to hug her closer, cheek resting against the top of her head. Peter gave Steve a look that said equal parts Help and This is happening, right? which Steve could only respond to with an amused shrug.

And then Morgan pointed him and said, “He’s the one in the picture near the sink but more beat up.”

“That he is,” Tony agreed. “Good eye, sweetheart.”

Peter looked three seconds away from dropping dead and Morgan turned to Steve. “Uncle Cap,” she said and then Steve was two seconds away, “he’s the one on the picture near the sink. Did you see it?”

Steve’s still reeling and Tony could absolutely tell because he himself was panicking so he twisted Morgan around to look her in the eye and poke her nose, “You know what, I don’t think he did. How about you take Pete over to the kitchen and you can bring that picture back, yeah?”

Morgan perked up at the mission and she nodded dutifully, climbing back down and taking Peter’s hand in her own. Tony called after them, “And get Uncle Rhodey to look at Peter’s face.”

“Uncle Cap,” Steve repeated, mostly to himself, because it wasn’t like this was his second time meeting Morgan, but she’d been less than a year old when he’d last hung around and that had ended in a pretty full blown argument between him and Tony that warranted Nebula and Nat to pull them apart to keep from making it physical. That wasn’t even touching on the fact that he never in his life expected to be Uncle anything.

Tony winced a little.

“Right. Uh.” He settled back in the couch. He started fiddling with his wedding ring, the thumb of the same hand turning it round and round. “For the first year or two, I was still pissed. Like a lot. Like still considering going back and beating your ass again. You know that. Mostly, I was mopey as shit, but then Morgan came along.”

Tony looked up from his lap, blowing a stream of air between his teeth, meeting Steve’s eye with only some effort. That was one thing that’d changed: Tony actually trying to speak his feelings instead of taking the route around.

“I thought all that ‘having a kid changed you’ shit was mommy blog propaganda but, well.” He motioned toward himself, “Living proof. Iron Man wore a baby wrap for a good couple of months. Then when she was able to talk she started asking about everything and I just…

“I couldn’t forget you guys. Omit you. Despite everything, you’re my family, as you so tearfully put it to Sam and Barnes in the quinjet, no, I didn’t miss that. I just got to thinking that I’d gone from alcoholic orphan Annie to a traumatized Daddy Day Care, both references of which you won’t get, I know—“

“Hey, yeah I did,” Steve bumped their elbows. “I’m caught up. Five years of nothing gave me time.”

Tony snorted, “Yeah, okay, doesn’t mean I won’t stop making fun of you, though. I’ll just have to get more obscure. Are you gonna interrupt me again or can I finish spilling my guts out to you?”

“Keep going.”

“I’ll end it quick. I didn’t want you guys to be strangers, so I told her everything without a few of the more bloody details, and now you’re all aunts and uncles. Yay.”

“Tony,” Steve said quietly. He glanced over his shoulder to see Morgan helping Rhodey paste some gauze over Peter’s eyebrow. “You know how grateful I am, right?”

Tony flapped a hand around, “Don’t worry about it, Cap. ‘S all water under the bridge.”

Steve nodded, glancing over at everybody else. Sam was tucked into a corner with a phone pressed to his ear, nodding frantically at whoever was on the line—probably his sister and his nephew. Rhodey was getting food out of the pantry with Morgan and Peter’s assistance while Pepper and Bucky talked with Happy glowering at him in his seat. His eyes locked with Bucky’s and Buck gave him a small smile before paying attention to whatever Pepper was saying again.

“Hey, do you think…” Steve didn’t realize he was talking until the words came back to him, “I mean, I’m not about to—“

“He was brainwashed,” Tony said immediately. Steve looked at him. “In the moment, was I ready to rip him limb from artificial limb? Absolutely. But I was mad that you didn’t tell me longer than I was that he actually did it. So. Yeah. I can let him off the hook too.”

Steve finally allowed himself to smile. Another wave of pain from the healing didn’t let him really reach across and hug Tony, so he settled for holding up his fist. Tony stared at it like a foreign thing for a second before cracking a grin and bumping his own against it, shaking his head with a rueful laugh, “Caught up, indeed, Steven. Never thought I’d see the day I’d fist-bump Captain America. Just yesterday, you were calling it fisting—“

“You’re really gonna bring that up, right after this—“

“Hey, we won,” Tony said, with conviction, “that means I get to say whatever I damn well please.”

Steve shoved at him, “It damn well doesn’t.”

“I’m gonna ignore what I just heard,” Rhodey said as he approached, out of his suit and wielding gauze and antiseptic, “in favor of making sure nobody’s actively bleeding out, how’s that?”

“Sounds splendid,” Tony answered.

Neither of them were, as Tony’s suit and Steve’s healing reported, but the entire right side of Tony’s body was still mottled, if not less black, and Steve’s thigh felt kind of like deli meat, even if it was scabbing over already. He accepted a section of the gauze and the antiseptic spray with still-shaking hands. He should probably ask Thor how the hell he’s able to handle doing that every day.

“Not sure what we can do about this,” Rhodey said, tapping Tony’s temple. “So. We’ll just have to see if there’s anything we can fix apart from that.”

Tony made a dismissive motion, “Eh. The suit shielded me from most of it. ‘S just a full body ‘I just wielded the power of several galaxies’ ache. The usual.”

“That was a brave thing for you to do, Tony,” Steve said, only a little bit to distract himself from the sting of the antiseptic’s sealing and mostly because he meant it.

“Dumb as shit,” Rhodey added. He gave Tony a look and ruffled his hair, “But, sure. Brave, too.”

Tony batted his eyelashes up at him. Rhodey kicked his shin. He snickered as he walked away, Tony pointing an accusatory finger after him, “I gaveth you those legs, I could taketh away!”

“I’d liketh to see you try.”

“I really thought killing the bad guy would give me some respect.”

Steve laughed under his breath. Tony elbowed him. They both groaned.

It was in the minutes after Morgan came back with the picture, which Steve used to confirm Peter’s identity, everybody finally quieting down, that Steve finally looked at Tony with a, What now?

“Dude, I don’t…” He let the words die out, something flickering fast over his face before he nodded. “Right. Right.” He brought his good hand up and waved it weakly, pitching his voice louder, “Community, uh. Commune.”

The talking didn’t stop, but a hush fell over everybody as they filed over. Happy and Rhodey sat on the smaller couch at Steve’s left, Pepper squeezing in on Tony’s other side. Steve got up, albeit shakily, and there were a number of alarmed stares but he only waved them off and motioned for Peter to get in on where he’d been sitting.

Steve got into the couch opposite Happy and Rhodey’s with Sam on the actual seat after speed walking to get the spot, Bucky begrudgingly perched on the arm next to Steve. He reached down and took Steve’s hand. Steve nudged Sam and mouthed, Your sister?

Sam shook his head, mouthing, Brother, before Tony spoke.

“So… We have some points to make. Two, specifically, I think. Unless you wanna add any more, Steve?” He looked at Steve as Morgan migrated from Pepper’s arms to his.

“Yeah. Just the two.” Steve nodded and shifted, pressing closer to Buck, clearing his throat. “We need to have a funeral for Nat.” The silence settled even heavier, muffling the rest of the noise. “I don’t know if it’ll be better to have it now or…”

Pepper was running her hand through Morgan’s hair carefully, eyes on Steve despite it. “We could send out a message to everybody and see when they can. Do we know if she had any… Any kind of last requests?” Her voice was starting to waver and she reached up to wipe at her eyes, breathing shakily, “Something we could do for her?”

“That she had one at all,” Bucky said beside him, and by the way he blinked when all eyes set on him, he hadn’t meant to say it out loud.

Steve squeezed his hand, “What do you mean, Buck?”

Bucky glanced at him and leaned back, focusing on Pepper. “Spies don’t get funerals or marked graves. Especially not ones that came out of her division. Funerals’re for people, and the women that came out of the Red Room weren’t seen as people, they were…” He shut his mouth abruptly, jaw working, before continuing. “Just. I don’t know what flowers she’d’ve wanted or if we should give her a twenty-one gun salute, but. I know she wanted a place to rest and be remembered.”

“Okay,” Tony said with forced evenness. “Okay, we can do that.” Bucky’s eyes flickered toward him for a second. Tony nodded and Bucky averted his eyes toward his lap. Steve knew why, he knew he still carried all the blame of what happened in Siberia despite how much Steve tried to tell him it wasn’t his fault. It just made him hope Tony would tell him he forgave him sooner rather than later.

“We can start comming everybody. Checking the news, all that,” Rhodey muttered, standing. Happy did the same, putting a hand on Rhodey’s shoulder to mutter something in his ear that Rhodey rolled his eyes to before leaving.

Pepper kissed the top of Morgan’s head and Tony’s cheek before standing too, “I’ll go with you.”

Once they were gone, Tony slumped, hugging Morgan closer. Peter’s eyes were starting to droop just like Morgan’s, head falling on Tony’s shoulder, and he only looked panicked for a second before Tony let his head fall on top of his. It was sweet and Steve couldn’t really imagine the Tony he used to know doing something like that so openly and was proud of him anew.

“Now there’s just the question of returning Mjolner and the Stones.”

“I’ll do it,” Steve said automatically, and Bucky hand tightened in his, head jerking to look at him. Steve very deliberately did not meet the look.

Sam was the one that spoke, though, “Wait, what do you mean return the Stones? Shouldn’t we just find a way to destroy them?”

Steve shook his head, “We have to return them to their respective timelines to prevent alternate universes. We did enough damage getting them, let alone destroying them.”

“Either way, maybe you should sit this one out,” Sam said. “You’ve been through a lot, someone else could.”

 “I’ve already done it and I’m the only other person apart from Thor that can carry Mjolner. It’ll be in and out, low risk.”

“It’s always low risk,” Bucky said lowly, near growling. Steve finally looked at him, but he was already not focused on him, scrubbing a rough hand through his hair.

Their eyes did lock for a second, the same brand as the ones in back alleys in Brooklyn.

“Bucky, I have to.”

“You always have to,” Bucky said in the same tone and didn’t let the look waver.

Steve, how bout we back off, let these idiots find their last braincell so we don’t have to go through the trouble of knocking it out of them.

He stood up abruptly, letting go of Steve and turning on his heel, “I’m gonna go help the others.” It seemed like the absolute last thing he wanted to do, considering who the others were, but he was also already leaving.

“Buck,” Steve attempted but he was readily ignored. He dropped his head into one hand, groaning.

Tony whistled low, “Really dropped the ball there, Cap.”

Sam didn’t hit him so much as tap his fist against the back of Steve’s head. “You couldn’t even give us a day back from the dead to go volunteering to throw yourself into another dangerous ass situation.”

“It’s not a dangerous ass situation,” Steve said through his fingers, sitting back up to lay back and stare at the ceiling. “It’s—I just have to do it and come back. That’s all.”

Tony pointed with a loose hand, “Don't pretend like it's nothing, man, it's time travel.”

Sam snapped his fingers at him, “Exactly. Uncharted territory. We have a right to be worried.”

“Nothing we didn’t deal with before.” Steve muttered and sat back up, “Just, uh. Meeting with a past self, getting stranded somewhere. Putting things back is a lot lower effort than stealing them, right?”

There was a small noise and Peter was slowly shaking his head against Tony’s shoulder, eyes slitting open, “Nope. I saw this movie once and getting thing out’s fine, but since you took it and security’s gonna be on higher alert, it’ll be harder to put back without confrontation.”

Which Steve knew. He’d just been downplaying the risks.

“Thank you, Peter,” Sam said and motioned toward him. “See? Harder. Get fucked.”

“Yo,” Tony hissed and jerked his head toward Morgan, even if she was sleeping, “shut up. I don’t need another lecture.”

“Shit, right.”

Morgan shifted and muttered a sleepy, “Shit,” that made Steve choke on a laugh and Sam smack a hand over his mouth.

Tony gave Sam a flat look that didn’t look genuinely disappointed by a mile, “Now look what you did. Worst role model ever. Language, Wilson.”

 

bucky

The fucking nerve of him. Bucky was maybe vaguely aware of the fact that he was overreacting, but he honestly didn’t care. Steve just didn’t know when to stop, the one fucking constant Bucky wished wasn’t.

He came into the kitchen and all manner of anger sort of dissipated with the realization he was out of his depth. Happy still hated him, if the glare he shot Bucky’s way was any indication, and though Pepper insisted he call her by her first name and Rhodey made his peace, he felt like before. Like his first few months out of cryo in Wakanda, couldn’t string together a sentence to save his life.

He muttered a greeting that might’ve been in Yiddish and sat down near Rhodey because he gave Bucky the least amount of bad feeling.

“We’re not even trying calls,” Rhodey said, only looking at Bucky for a second to nod in acknowledgement before swiveling one of the screens toward him. “Just messages. Find a common date. We already sent out something to everybody so we’re just waiting for responses. Wanna be on that while we check everything else?”

“Sure,” he responded after thinking for the umpteenth time there was no way there was a grown man allowing himself to be called Happy and Pepper had to nudge Happy to fling the corresponding screens his way.

He stopped them in front of him, already used to the tech since it was kind of like Shuri’s in Wakanda. If not, well. A little slower. But he wasn’t about to voice that fact.

Scott Lang—that was his name, Bucky repeated it to himself quietly while he read over his message— responded in under a minute with a lot of exclamation points and too many Emojis. Bucky paused for a second after telling him before apologizing for the airport.

Anything for the Captain dude its alright!!! we’re all back now that’s all that matters.

Bucky shut his eyes for a second. Right. All back.

Not all. But.

“So, Sarge,” Rhodey said, louder than the quiet cycle of talking Bucky realize they’d been doing the entire time. Bucky looked up. Rhodey didn’t do the same until a second later, eyebrow raised. “Why’d you storm out like that?”

Bucky knew he must’ve looked sour because Rhodey grinned. “What’d Steve do?”

“It’s what he’s gonna do,” Bucky muttered.

Rhodey waved a hand through the air, “Ooh, cryptic.”

“He’s taking the Stones back, isn’t he?” Pepper asked. It was her tone that surprised him. Less an observation like Rhodey, more close to the apprehension Bucky felt.

“Yeah.”

She nodded, finishing whatever she was typing and looking at him, “Figures. I can’t say I’m not glad it’s not Tony, he needs to recover, but so does Steve.”

“Yeah, exactly,” Bucky responded immediately, a little too loud. He flinched and flapped a hand around, “It’s just. A lot.”

Rhodey snorted, motioning at everybody at the table. Happy grunted. “We know how it is. Believe me. Having to watch my best friend on the brink of death over and over it…” He crossed his arms. “I get it. Really, dude. I do. They’re wired that way. We can’t do anything about it.”

Pepper made a noise that was halfway to a scoff, “I’ve tried. Believe me, I’ve tried.” The scowl softened and she pushed a piece of hair behind her ear, sitting up.  Looked at Bucky with understanding, “We just have to know when it’s for the good and when we really have to stop them. Right now… Trust him. He’ll be fine.”

“I don’t ever not trust him,” Bucky said, because it was true. “I just… worry.”

“You still see the little guy sometimes, don’t you?” Rhodey asked.

Bucky looked up from his hands. Rhodey was lounging back in his chair, not judging, simply asking. Bucky nodded. “Sometimes. Not literally, obviously—fuckin’ tank, now—but the same… He has the same set to his shoulders. I.” He ran both hands up and back through his hair, “After everything. I don’t know how this is gonna work and I’m scared.”

Rhodey leaned forward, “Listen, I went on the recon mission. It’s not super high risk, Steve can hold his own.” He leaned an elbow up to point, noncommittal, “Just tell him to be careful and not do dumb shit. He apparently did dumb shit last time and it didn’t blow our cover, but it was pretty inconvenient.”

Bucky narrowed his eyes, “What did he do?”

Rhodey put both hands up, “Ask him, I’m not snitching.”

"He's a durable guy," Happy said, not looking up. "He'll be okay."

Bucky stared at him for a second. God, if this guy was tryna console him , he had to be sounding some shade of panicked. He licked his lips before looking back at his screen, "Okay. Okay. Thanks. All of you."

"Any time," Pepper said.

The only people left in the living room when he decided to finally go to his room were—go figure—Peter, Stark, and the little girl in his lap. Morgan, right. Both kids were asleep and Stark was on his way, but he was just awake enough to meet Bucky’s eye.

He pointed up, mouthed, Second door to the right.

Bucky wasn’t sure why it unsettled him so much. He nodded in thanks anyway, trying not to seem like he was running away when he went upstairs. Sure, he was in the guy’s house, he’d befriended his best friends and his wife, but that didn't stop his unease toward the whole situation.

“Christ,” he said under his breath and got to the second door on the right. It was slightly ajar, a perfect sliver of Steve face down on one of the two double beds, arms spread wide. Bucky thought for a second he’d passed out but then he brought his face to the side to breathe, opening his eyes.

He looked at Bucky. Pushed himself up on his elbows to stand shakily, “Buck.”

“Still mad. And you probably reopened your stab wound coming up here by yourself, so double mad,” Bucky said and walked in, sitting down on the side of the same bed. He did his fucking best to not look, honest. He knew the exact face Steve would be sporting when he did, all puppy dog eyes and that one floppy piece of hair over his forehead, no different in 2019 than in the 30’s. Well, 2023.

Lo and behold, Bucky looked at him, and there it was.

“I didn’t reopen it.”

He pointed an accusatory finger, “That’s cheating and you know it.”

Steve leaned back against the dresser, hands braced on his belt buckle, “Bucky, I have to do this—“

“You always have to, Rogers, it’s always that you have to.” He dropped his hand and turned to cross his legs and face Steve fully. He knew he was scowling and didn’t give a shit. “Just… why can’t someone else do it?”

Steve’s eyes sparked seeing a point of entry for reasoning, started ticking names off his fingers, “Thor’s in New Asgard, and even if they could pick up the hammer, Scott’s with his family and Tony’s recovering. I’m the only one.”

“What the hell do you mean if they could pick up the hammer?

Steve’s mouth twitched. Bucky refrained from acknowledging the old Brooklyn edge to it, the way his eyes glinted like they used to before he would drag Bucky into some dark corner by his suspenders and do something stupid. He limped across the room and picked up the hammer, flipping it a little in his hand with a bright look sent Bucky’s way.

Bucky rose an eyebrow.

Steve shook his head, came back over, and placed it on the floor in front of Bucky’s feet. He took a step back. Gestured toward it. “Go ahead. Try.”

He stared at him, both eyebrows now making the steady crawl up to his hairline. “Seriously?”

“Yeah. Go ahead. Just don’t throw all your weight on it, you’ll hurt something. We had to pop Tony’s shoulder back in when we were all getting tries.”

“Tries at what?” Bucky muttered and bent the distance to grab it, “Picking up a god—“ he was almost pulled off the bed by his own weight because the thing didn’t budge as he’d expected it to, “damn, what the hell?”

He stood up. Shot a look at the tiny snort Steve gave before waving Bucky off to continue. Bucky did. At least, he tried to. The floorboards under it creaked and he swore it did shift but.

“What the…” He changed his grip and braced his metal hand under his flesh one for better leverage, planting his feet firmly on either side before pulling

—and it flew away, taking him with it, landing gracefully in Steve’s waiting hand so his fingers overlapped Bucky’s when he crashed into Steve’s chest, which he was pretty sure he’d’ve chipped a tooth on if his mouth wasn’t closed. And, yes, it had definitely flown.

Bucky gawked, “Steve—“

“It’s Thor’s,” Steve said quietly. He unwrapped one of Bucky’s hands from around the handle to it instead, though he was still holding the other one in a makeshift way around everything.

The hammer felt weightless in contrast.

“Explain,” Bucky responded slowly.

Steve’s face was suddenly a very pretty shade of pink. He darted his eyes up, down, and kept them fixed on the hammer, “It’s, uh… Not everybody’s meant to be able to carry it. Like I said, when we were all in the Tower we would have nights where we would watch movies and get a little drunk and one time after a party Tony said he would probably be able to pick up Mjolner with the power of physics or something.” He tilted his head. “It was so long ago. But, uh, the point is, we all took tries and it didn’t budge. It kind of wiggled for me but I couldn’t pick it up.”

“Why’re you able to do it now?”

“I’m, well…” He slowly lowered the hammer onto the dresser behind them so he could take both of Bucky’s hands fully in his own, bringing them to his lips to speak against the bruised knuckles of his right hand. It was a deliberate muffle, but Bucky still heard him clear as day.

“Thor said only people who’re Worthy, capital W, can carry it. I don’t know what that means, exactly, or what warrants it, or if I even am, honestly, but—“

Bucky wanted to hear more, but not down that path. It was another type of audacity. He lifted his fists so Steve’s eyes lifted with them, spreading his hands out to cup his sweet face in them. He held Bucky’s wrists loosely and fluttered those brilliantly blue eyes shut when Bucky pressed their mouths together for the first time in so long.

“Baby, ‘course you are. You’ve always been.” He kissed the very corner of Steve’s mouth, the bow of his top lip before Steve pulled him closer just for their foreheads to press together, their noses to bump. Bucky was committing the feeling of the rise of Steve’s cheekbones under his thumbs meticulously, mismatched with the limited feel of the left one, like he was the one who disappeared for five years and not Bucky. God. Jesus. He’d left him, for all that time, and Stevie still had all this light, this fight in him, “Been telling you since we were kids you’re worth ten of any regular fella, ‘course your worthy, Stevie.”

Steve’s hands tightened on his waist and he surged forward with a new kind of fervor, the kiss heated and full of everything despite the throwaway sort of way he said, “You’re letting the Brooklyn mick slip out, honey.”

“The hell do I care? ‘S been dying to get out since I evicted the other guy.”

“I love you,” Steve breathed, like new oxygen into Bucky’s lungs, his bloodstream.

He kissed his response into the curve of Steve’s smile, his cheek, the bolt of his jaw, mouthed it against his throat.

This was his homecoming. What a way to say hello.

“Hey, Stevie,” he breathed, maybe a tad overacted and licked a long line up to Steve’s cheek that made him yelp while Bucky snickered, “you’re gross.”

Steve shoved at his face, “You’re gross.”

“We should remedy that then,” and he said it with some sense of being, well, goal-oriented, but he didn’t really mean that part. Steve knew, Steve could tell things about him when even he couldn’t.

The room had an en suite, thank God, with a standing shower. Stark might’ve gone for the rustic aesthetic everywhere else, but appliances were all the same new, sleek metal that spoke of several zeros. The actual shower came from above like rain and the two retractable heads on the walls. They both agonized over the dial for a hot second before Steve realized you pulled it forward then turned right.

When he did manage, dodging the cold spray of the water, he turned back toward Bucky with this goofy fucking smile, proud as hell.

“Dork,” Bucky snickered and stepped forward, reaching around his waist to get the catch of the suit. He pulled it down slowly to avoid scraping the zipper against any bruises or broken things, Steve leaning forward to press their foreheads together again as he did with a sigh.

Bucky slid his hands up sweaty sides to grab either side and peel it off, watching the dirty star fold with it. He was bare to the waist, then, all different colors of purple, blue, and red stuck through with dirt like a bad watercolor painting.

“It’ll heal up,” Steve muttered but Bucky bent to press a kiss to his collarbone anyway.

“Don’t erase the fact it happened though,” Bucky said back. He straightened up and they carefully pieced all the armor off each other, Steve unbuttoning his vest with still shaking fingers (“The lightning zinged a little, Buck, it’ll go away, I’m fine.”) and Bucky unlacing his boots. He took a good look at the already-closing stab wound on his thigh before deeming it alright enough to submerge in the water with the sealant.

The shower had ample room for maybe four super soldiers, forget the two of them. They crowded in anyway and Bucky was about to fight for first dibs on the spray when he remembered that they’re both getting hit.

There were about a dozen different bottles on the little ledge in the wall despite the fact it’s a guest bathroom and Bucky settled on one patterned in honeycombs with a sprig of rosemary. He held it in both hands for a second, the words blurring with the water and the strange feeling of the fact that they’d gone through everything they had in the span of the last few hours, and now here he was, about to wash his hair in a niceass shower with the love of his life still buzzing from wielding the power of gods.

(It wasn’t quite disassociation, not like when he was still half the Soldier, half Bucky, half whatever the fuck he was supposed to be, but for a second, everything around him’s off kilter.)

Steve took the shampoo gently, “Here. Let me.”

Bucky let him. He tipped his head back, eyes shut, and let Steve scrub his hair clean. There was a point where Steve pressed a kiss to his throat and it was weird to feel it with no beard to go along with it after the year and a half Steve spent with one.

“You shaved,” he said, peeking through his lashes and rubbing his hands up and down his jaw. It wasn’t completely bare, though, ‘cause he could still feel the beginning of stubble on his fingers.

Steve nodded and grated the stubble over Bucky’s fingers further, “Yeah. Thinking of growing it back now, though.”

“Can’t say I’m opposed to that, personally,” Bucky mumbled back and Steve kissed him for real on the next pass. Opened Bucky’s mouth to his slowly, sweetly.

Maybe if he were more in his own head, if Steve wasn’t still shaking, he’d escalate it. But he felt content like this, kissing for the sake of it. They had time. Now, finally, they had time.

 

They brushed their teeth after with extra toothbrushes Stark’d pointed out to Steve. They left one out for Sam.

They were dried off and dressed, Bucky sitting up with a book on composting Pepper’d given him, Steve drowsy with his face mashed into Bucky’s side and an arm around his middle, when Sam walked in with his change of clothes, immediately announcing, “I’m gonna be one hundred percent honest, if I hear anything. One thing. Sneeze, cough, I don’t care what—I’m gonna make Tony kick you out.”

“We’re not gonna have sex w’ you in the room, Sam. I don’t have the energy,” Steve said. He was tired, from everything. Bucky thought maybe it’d been a long time since he’d actually taken a second to really, truly rest.

“Meaning if he did,” Bucky continued, looking up from his book briefly, “we totally would.”

Steve made a noise of discretization, rubbing his nose back and forth into the skin of Bucky’s rib when he shook his head.

Sam pointed, “Reason number one why I like Steven better. Reason number two ‘s that he’s never flung me out of the sky.”

“I apologized for that,” Bucky said and called after him, “and you may want to make sure we left hot water in there before you get in.”

Sam grunted before making a noise of distress, head popping back out, “Wait a minute—“

“We didn’t,” Steve muttered, letting go of Bucky for a second to flap a hand in his direction. Sam crossed himself and went back in, slamming the door shut.

“I’m watching you, Bucket!”

Bucky turned a page noisily, “Oh, are you now—“

Steve shushed him, artlessly smacking his hand around until it landed over Bucky’s mouth. Bucky huffed against his palm and stuck his tongue out.

“Tactless,” he muttered and wiped the hand off on the front of Bucky’s shirt.

“Got your hand off though, didn’t it?” Bucky glanced down at him, dropping his hand back on his shoulder, sliding it down to press between his shoulder blades. He’d fractured one, but it was healed over already from what Bucky would feel.

His eyes caught on the hammer on their way back to the book. It was lying harmlessly on the dresser, handle straight up. It looked more like an obscure decoration than a godly weapon. When he’d seen Steve whipping that thing around on the actual battle field, wreathed in lightning with bad guys dropping around his feet like flies, he thought maybe he’d gone off the deep end again. First a hub cap, then a hammer, what was next, a wrench?

But it’d been real. As real as Steve sleeping on him now.

“Who’d’ve thought we’d end up here, huh?”

He looked back down at the same time Steve looked up. Bucky brushed a piece of still-damp hair off his face. “I’m just thinking back and trying to imagine tellin’ that little guy in Brooklyn about all this and I can’t…”

Steve closed his eyes again, snuggling closer, “I wouldn’t believe you if you told me I’d be 6’3, let alone the rest.”

“I wouldn’t believe my half of it either, but—“

“Your half of it is decidedly more traumatic—“

“Yet we both have PTSD. What a cop out.”

Steve kneed his shin and Bucky tightened the arm around him to be decidedly more chokehold-y. Steve turned more into him so the pressure was off and his voice went soft again. “I missed you.”

Bucky rested his hand over his cheek, thumb drifting over the rise. This never changed. His face, square or angular or otherwise was always this sweet. Bucky bent down to press a kiss to his temple. “Never again, Stevie. Never leaving you again. You ain’t ever gonna have to miss me again.”

Steve brought a hand up to hold Bucky’s to his face. “Buck, but I miss you every time I close my eyes, every time we’re apart, I don’t think I’m gonna let you go to the bathroom without me anymore—“

“Christ, shut up, you’re horribly codependent.”

“You mean we’re.”

Bucky laughed until Steve joined him.

 

Steve was sleeping soundly by the time came out, dressed with a towel around his neck. he glanced down at Steve before jerking his head at the door. “Wanna go get something to eat?”

“Oh thank God,” Bucky breathed and carefully left Steve’s grasp. He was fucking starving but he was raised with manners and he wasn’t about to ask Stark where he kept his peanut butter, so. He wasn’t too worried about Steve, he always went down like a lump after a fight before waking up ravenous.

“The water pressure in this place puts the compound’s to shame, holy shit,” Sam groaned, putting the towel over his head like a hood. “I feel like Jello. And you don’t even know how much I’d been wanting to brush my teeth.”

Bucky nodded, “Shower’s always the best part after everything.” He shrugged, starting down the steps, “Except, y’know, being alive.”

“Nah, shower trumps.”

“You’re right,” Bucky said.

Peter, Rhodey, and Happy were already sitting at the dinner table, surrounded by a small buffet of food. Happy had Morgan sleeping in his arms and he was doing a very good job of eating his chips quietly. Peter waved at them and motioned toward the seats near him. He looked between them, “Where’s Captain Rogers?”

“Asleep,” Bucky answered, sitting heavily.

There was enough for Bucky to load a bagel up with everything in sight, excluding maybe the napkins, and he immediately took half of it off in one bite. He held it with both hands, elbows on the table, and hung his head to take it in.

Rhodey snickered, “Feeling the five years?”

“Little bit,” Sam said after roughly swallowing his mouthful.

“I’ve never been this hungry,” Peter said. “Like, ever. I have the biggest craving for a sub from this bodega near my house.” He paused and Bucky felt the air from what had to be his bagel, “Or lox. For this.”

“I agree with the lox,” Bucky mumbled, looking back up.

“Me too,” Happy said, meeting Bucky’s eye briefly. That felt about as close to a peace treaty Bucky was ever gonna get from the guy but, hey, he’ll take it.

They ate quietly after that, speaking lowly to not wake Morgan. Bucky tuned out as soon as he felt movement at the top of the stairs before Pepper started coming down, wiping at her face. She made eye contact with Bucky and stopped, motioning at him to come up.

He blinked and set his third bagel down before wiping his hands to go. He went up to the third step so she bent down from the fifth, “Tony wants to talk to you. Are you good with that?”

Bucky jerked back, hissing, “What?”

“He just wants to talk,” she repeated easily, one hand up. It’s a good hand. A silencing kind Bucky felt an old and new compulsion to listen to. Fuck his fucking manners, godfuck.

He lowered his hackles for a second, clenching his jaw. “’Bout what?”

She gave him a deadpan stare, tilting her head so the light shadowed the cut above her eyebrow, “Bucky.”

Christ. The way she said his name was all too familiar already. Maybe they could’ve been friends in another life, close ones, if it hadn’t been for that entire mess. The thought's what made him gesture between them, “See, when it’s something so uncomfortable you can’t even mention it, imagine my apprehension to an entire conversation—“

“Five years,” she said quietly and that shut him up once more. “Seven, technically. He wants to talk, Bucky. Please. If you’re not ready, it’s fine, but. If you are. If you can be.”

He’d never be ready. There weren’t any self-help books as to How to Look the Son of Your Close Friend You Murdered in the Eye After Trying to Dig Out His Heart for Punching Your Significant Other.

Fuck. Shit.

But there really wasn’t any time like the present.

“Okay. Okay, I'll do it,” he said, finally, and they switched positions. She squeezed his wrist and smiled wearily before continuing down the stairs to kiss Morgan’s head.

Bucky took a deep breath. Sam met his eye with a raised eyebrow and Bucky nodded quickly before going all the way up the steps silently. He made himself make some noise coming down the hallway towards what he’d already gouged was the master bedroom because the no noise thing was unnerving and he knew it. Stark didn't need another reason to dislike him.

The door was slightly open and if Bucky didn’t have the serum he wouldn’t’ve been able to hear it, but he did, so he picked up on Stark’s mantra of, “I am an adult. I can talk about my feelings. I am an adult.”

So maybe there weren’t many pamphlets for him to read up on either. Bucky didn’t even wanna know what those would be called.

He knocked on the doorway and Stark gave a rushed, “Yeah, uh, come in,” before Bucky did. He stayed in the doorway. The room was the same as the house, nice and lived in. The bed was a king with deep blue blankets and an obviously home knit throw blanket over the foot of it. Stark was propped up, picking at the strands of thread coming loose from it.

He didn’t look like Howard. All the older articles he’d read about him on his year off mentioned Howard one way or another, especially favoring putting pictures of them both side by side and saying something about Tony following his father’s footsteps. Dark hair, the beard, the mad scientist glint in his eye, sure. Right now, half burnt, bruised and entirely way too battered, less so since Howard’d never seen a lick of combat and the only bruise Bucky’d ever seen him sport was from a gun’s kickback since he didn’t know how to hold it. Except for. Well.

No, Stark looked like Maria. He’d seen pictures of her, apart from. From the footage. Apart from the memory. Stark had her mouth, her nose. It made it worse, somehow.

"You’re looking awfully refreshed for someone who’s been dead five years.”

Stark’s voice was hoarse. Not fake cheerful, but too cautious for it to be in the same rhythm of the way he’d talked over the comms.

“I’m used to it,” Bucky responded. God.

Stark nodded thoughtfully. He laid back down completely, doing a good job of hiding his pain if Bucky weren’t who he was. There’s a strain in his jaw that wasn’t usually there considering how loose-lipped he was. “Ah. Guess I’m joining the Been Dead, Done That club, huh? We should make t-shirts.”

Bucky wanted to tell him he’d already made the suggestion to Steve and T’Challa, more along the lines of Iced Out, Still Fine but he wasn’t sure if he could. Stark was joking sure, but that’s what he did. He’d done his research in the year of running after dragging Steve out of the Potomac, with lack of much else except for the instinct to run, fighting just as hard against the one to stay, let Steve find him, just—

“Bad joke?” Stark asked. He was light in the voice but it was betrayed by the loaded ass look he pinned Bucky to his spot with.

Bucky didn’t let himself squirm under it. He crossed his arms, shifting his weight. “Just. You know. Last time we were in the same room, I lost an arm.”

Though it wasn’t that, obviously. Stark knew it wasn’t that, Bucky had every single kind of upperhand in this scenario. But he wouldn’t forget it. The super hearing didn’t let him miss the hollowed out way Stark’d told Stevie, He killed my mom, and how that had managed to override his instinct to evade, survive, to just let Stark put him down then and there.

He was different, now, than then, but that didn’t change the way he felt about it.

“I know it’s been more than half a decade for you, but for me…”

“Right.” Stark said slowly and cleared his throat. “Right. Right. Well, yeah. That’s what I called this for. I figured.” He motioned vaguely, “That.”

Bucky didn’t exactly know how to respond to that either. He thought maybe Stark was doing this to mess with him or some shit; it had been a long time, but he’d watched The Princess Bride with Shuri and that didn’t bring him much comfort.

“Dude, you can sit or something, you know,” Stark said in reference to the lone vanity chair pulled up beside the bed. “I swear, I just want to talk. For closure and all that.” He was worrying at his wedding band. Bucky’d noticed that he only ever stopped the constant flurry of motion when he focused on it.

Bucky awkwardly made his way over. He was employing every ounce of silent tact he could once again because for some reason he felt that if the floorboards creaked too loud under his feet, Stark would snap out of his generous stupor. He sat straight-backed, arms still crossed.

His dog tags clinked against his arm and he suddenly realized Steve and Stark’d had their heads together all afternoon. He focused on one of the embroidered flowers on the blanket, “Listen, Stark, if you’re doing this for Steve—“

“Please,” he scoffed abruptly, “when have I ever been known to try and make Steve’s life easier?” He swiped a hand through the air, “The answer’s never. Never ever. He reminded me, today, after I absolved him. But I’m not doing it for him.”

Bucky set his back teeth together. He met Stark’s eye, resolutely not looking away. The guy had an agenda. Bucky could tell. “Okay. Then…”

“Well. Yeah.” He took a deep breath, smoothing his hands over the blankets before starting, “I’m not about to say I overreacted that day. I’ll be the first to admit my, uh, drama queen tendencies. But still. I was justified in my freak out, I think.”

“You were,” Bucky agreed. He couldn’t even imagine what he would have done. He’d tried sometimes, on quiet days in Wakanda when he was in the middle of an episode and all he could think about was Stark’s fury, the sounds of machinery crashing into the shield and bones breaking. If it had been his parents or Becca or Steve and someone he trusted like Sam or Natalia knew and hadn’t told him…

Stark nodded, “Cool. Okay. I’ll say I’m justified. But. I’ll also say I…” He narrowed his eyes at his hands, tapping the wedding band again with impatient fingers before getting out, “I was wrong. In persecuting you for so long after that.” His eyes darted to the door. Bucky knew it was closed, but the look was more a compulsion thing than worry.

“I was… um. Tortured. Too,” Stark said, quieter. Less in secret and more to get it out fast. Bucky didn’t want to let the shock show on his face but his extensive research on the Avengers supplied him with the allotments of time in which something like torture could’ve happened. “Which is not to say we should become all buddy-buddy because, yippee, we both have trauma, but.”

“Afghanistan?”

Stark nodded, flashing a thumbs up, “Yup. Back before Capscicle was even thawed out. When Iron Man was a near future and the Merchant of Death was a pretty bad example of a present.”

He said the name the same way Bucky would address the Soldier. A ghost too-familiar for comfort.

“Wasn’t even a quarter of the shit you dealt with,” Stark cut in quickly, motioning at his arm, “I didn’t lose any limbs. They did stick a hunk of metal and jumper cables in my chest and call it a day, a procedure in which the only real anesthetic was the blood loss making me all woozy, so.” He rubbed at his temple with a knuckle, “I remember every uber fun second. Not to mention the good times after that. The hip people call it PTSD, or so I’m told.”

Yeah.

Blurry white and bloody tools and masked faces and he tried to fight but the arm wasn’t his and they hissed like the snakes they were around him, held him down, got on with it.

He swallowed hard. Stark seemed to level with him, the look he gave almost surprised that it worked.

It did. He hadn’t ever really thought of it before. Like Stark’d said, it didn’t mean shit, in terms of their relationship, but Bucky wanted him to speak.

Stark cleared his throat. “You can thank Rhodey for this long-winded comparison thing,” he said and twisted his wrist around. “I was still recovering from the major thwacking your boyfriend supplied to the ol’ noggin and he was going on this long rant I can’t recall half of to you, but I do remember him calling you a victim, just like you, just like Pepper, Tony, at one point, and the appeal to my selfish nature kind of did it for me.”

Bucky wasn’t sure how the fuck he managed to get so many words out in one sitting.

Stark put a hand up and leveled it, “But. That. Uh. Yeah. You were. A victim. I didn’t let myself see that that day. At least not fully. I didn’t let myself see it that way for a long time.”

Bucky shifted, crossing his legs. Shuri’d used that word, and so had Steve. It never fit quite right in his head even if they might’ve been correct. “That doesn’t excuse it,” he said. Stark blinked, head tilting. “Sure, I was a victim. I was erased beyond capacity. To the point that I’m not even sure calling who they’d made human would be fitting. Emotions, empathy, capacity for autonomous thoughts, that wasn’t granted to me. But I still did it. That blood’s still on my hands. I still remember—“

how Howard pleaded for his wife, how their lives dripped from my fingers and I wiped them on my pants and called it a day.

“I remember. So if you’re gonna tell me something about how none of it was my fault—“

Stark didn’t seem excited at that, persay, (because that would’ve been fucking weird), but he did point at Bucky with some flourish, sitting up, “Yeah, that’s what I’m getting at. I mean, no. Not the last part. But. Exactly my point. You were a victim, but the memories are still there. I never wanted the weapons to be used the way they were but—“ He went speechless for a good five seconds of flurried hand movements before getting out, “I didn’t kill but I caused death, and you did your thing against your will but, regardless, you did it.

“What’s important is we’ve changed, right?” Stark finally let himself fall back again, giving a small noise of discomfort. Bucky’s brain finally caught up with everything and he didn’t know how to feel, everything laid out so bare. “Jesus, I’m glad that sounded even half as okay as it did in my head. Give me a minute, I have one more thing to get through but I think I just felt one of my ribs high five the other one.”

Bucky did let himself laugh, then, under his breath. He knew the speech thing. He’d perfected the speech thing with Shuri, and he tried to remember what he’d told her when she’d asked him about how deep his guilt still ran.

“We can’t change our pasts because they made us who we are,” he realized he was staring at the knuckles of his left hand too intently, shifting his eyes up again to meet Stark’s, “but they don’t define us.”

Stark sat up abruptly again, looking like he instantly regretted it, but he nodded with vigor, “Yes! Exactly. Ugh, one sec,” he fell back again with a groan. “Christ. Yeah.” He let his head fall in Bucky’s direction, face puckered by the pain, but resolute, “The point is. I kept rationalizing my lack of forgiveness because I couldn’t process the fact that my mom and my asshole dad could warrant being hit by an organization like HYDRA. Everybody’d been telling me it was just a car accident for so long… Then seeing you. In the footage.”

He hadn’t looked Stark in the face when Zemo pulled up the video. Didn’t have to. Didn’t want to.

He’d looked until Maria Stark took her last breath and the tears in his eyes made his vision blurry enough to obstruct it. Another apology rose in his throat.

“I was more pissed off Steve hadn’t told me than the fact that you as a person had done it. But that was HYDRA. Not you.” Stark formed the words carefully when he said them, “I forgive you.”

A long-sitting lump of regret untangled in his stomach. The words washed over him like his first time stepping out into a rainstorm in Wakanda. He’d never thought—Hoped, maybe, but he never thought he’d see Stark again, let alone talk to him, let alone be forgiven.

“And I dunno if this’ll even make sense to you, but I, uh. Wanted to see if you could forgive me too. For being an ass for longer than was warranted.”

Bucky had to rerun the sentence in his head to make sure he’d heard right, “Stark—“

“I know, I know. But, like you said, last time we were in the same room, you lost an arm. Yeah. I’ve had a while to think about this. For my peace of mind.” He clasped his hands together, “Plus, I just saved, like, a lot people. And this is still bugging me. Look, I’ll even say it. Please?”

He wasn’t sure why the sight of Stark’s—it felt strange to call him that, after all this— mismatched hands was what finally did it to him. Maybe the small voice that told him, Like you.

It was comical, honest.

“Yeah,” Bucky said, finally. He nodded, tucking a piece of hair behind his ear when it fell forward. “Yeah. Okay. I forgive you, too. As long as you start calling me Bucky.”

Stark dropped his hands like the weight holding them up was finally freed. His mouth was twitching despite his scoff, “Wow, okay. So you’re giving me demands, when all I did was spill out of the goodness of my heart.” He wagged a finger at him, “I’ll agree to it. But only for the vice versa, since we’re doing this. I’m tired of the whole last name game thing—Normal people that aren’t us don’t do that, y’know. So we’re clear. You sure you don’t want, like, James? Jimmy? I dunno, nevermind, I call Rhodey Jim most of the time, that’d get too confusing.”

“Bucky. You work with a guy named Happy, you have no right toward making fun of my name.”

“I’d argue, but fair point.”

Bucky dipped his head in a final nod. He felt a smile starting to fit itself into the corners of his mouth. Stark—Tony—held out his hand. The right one. It was deliberate, Bucky knew that, no one new ever actively tried to touch his left hand if they could avoid it.

Bucky took it in his metal one and shook it once. Tony squinted at his and held it up analytically, “Huh. It’s warm.”

“That’s what I said,” Bucky agreed. Shuri had scoffed and called him an idiot, of course it was warm, what did he take her for.

“It’s impressive. I need to meet your engineer at some point.”

Bucky didn’t preen, he knew Shuri was a genius, it wasn’t news, but he sure did feel proud on her behalf. “Sure, she’d like that. As long as you’re fine with being called stupid on seven different fronts in the space of an hour, you two’ll get along swimmingly.”

“I live with Pepper, I’m used to it,” Tony dismissed. He dropped Bucky’s hand.  “Do we like…” It seemed to physically pain him. “Hug, or something? Is that what we do now?”

“We really don’t have to.”

“Oh, thank God.” He made a small circular gesture with his good wrist, “Then begone. The new wave of pain meds is blessedly kicking in and I’m gonna start drooling.”

Bucky snorted and stood, shoving his hands in his hoodie pocket, “Alright. Thank you.” His name still sounded strange in Bucky’s voice, but he was getting used to it, “Tony. Seriously.”

“Dude, psh,” he settled back. “Go. We’re Even Steven.” His face screwed up and he muttered, “Goddamnit, I should’ve used that one with Cap. Fuck.” He flapped the same hand, “Go, go. Now I’m mad.”

Bucky rolled his eyes and turned around, “Right, okay,” getting to the door in time so Tony wouldn’t see his smile. It only faltered when a piece of the conversation popped back up as he grabbed the doorknob and he faced him again. Tony raised an eyebrow.

“Tony,” Bucky said. The name wasn't as foreign as he thought it would be in his mouth. “You do know you’re not selfish, right?”

Tony stared at him, like he was fathoming why Bucky was saying it. Then it must’ve clicked because he gave a short exhale through his nose and nodded, “Uh huh—“

Bucky twisted toward him more fully, hand still on the doorknob, “I’m serious. Maybe at some point you were, but take a look at where you are right now. At what you’re doing. At what you did, hours ago. It’s the opposite.”

He wasn’t sure what possessed him to do it, but he had to. Tony’d left him with no doubt of himself and Bucky wasn’t about to leave him with his own. Before the conversation, he might’ve just left it to Steve, but it felt appropriate, considering.

Tony swallowed visibly. He ducked his head, said more sincerely, “Yeah, okay. Alright. I get it. I guess you’ve got… points. Ugh, okay, now you actually have to leave cause I might start crying and then it’s gonna get even more awkward. Scram, Robocop.”

“Right,” Bucky said and did heading downstairs immediately for a drink of water, passing Pepper reading on the couch. She smiled at him. He nodded.

The feast had ended, which figured, because it was pretty late anyway, but he still found Sam sitting on the counter with Peter and Morgan. There was a plate of chocolate chip cookies between them, still stacked high despite the ones obviously stuffed in their cheeks.

Peter waved brightly and Sam smiled to give Bucky an eyeful of the disgusting mess in his mouth. Bucky shoved at his face, side stepping the responding swing to turn on the tap and duck his head into the sink. Sam made a noise of obvious disdain and Bucky was very tempted to spit it back at him, but it was late and that might’ve been overkill, they were all in pajamas.

He wasn’t able to feel his arm, persay. Shuri did all she could because she felt it a personal challenge to make the arm as life like as possible, but this was still technically a prototype of another model she’d been banging out. So he knew someone was touching his arm, poking it to be precise; he just didn’t know it was the kid until he was almost actively ready to smack Sam’s hand away.

He turned off the water, swallowing hard. Morgan was focused on her tiny hand on his shoulder, splaying it out with a fixed concentration. She nodded and looked up at him with these big brown eyes startlingly like Tony’s. “It’s warm,” she whispered.

Bucky wanted to laugh but it would’ve been too loud. He nodded, “Yeah. It is.”

“I like it,” she said and patted his arm before dropping her hand to grab another cookie. She offered it to him.

He could’ve choked up right then and there. He took it carefully, as if she would be startled by him or something, and she took another one for herself. She waited for him to eat his before her own.

Peter looked about the same as Bucky except he reached up to smooth down the wild flyaway hairs hovering around her head, “That was really generous, Morgan.”

“I have to be. I’m your host.” She said it like someone else, probably Pepper, had  told her before. She had crumbs on her face and her eyes were starting to droop and Bucky felt himself fall in love as easily as he had the first time he held Becca.

He looked up and Sam must’ve seen it on his face because he nodded and went,
“Me too, man. Me too.”

“Hm?” Peter went, looking between them.

Sam shook his head, “Nothing. Nothing.”

“I’m going back up,” Bucky said and finally stopped fighting the instinct to ruffle Morgan’s hair, then Peter’s, who still looked too tired to even protest, as a good night.

When he hovered his hand near Sam the guy adopted a scarily calm face. “Go ahead. Do it. I know where you live.”

“Whas that mean?” Morgan asked and Bucky didn’t do it for the sake of finally having a semblance of peace, especially knowing what he was going back up to. This whole thing seemed way too blessingly normal, domestic, even.

Sam waved him away, face cracking for a smile as he leaned toward Morgan and Peter conspiratorially, “Means more for us. How many more do you think before you can forget that word and not tell your mom I taught you it?”

Bucky only stuck around long enough to see her consider it very seriously before holding up three fingers and he let himself snort as he went up the stairs.

 

steve

It always starts with the Snap. Complete and utter silence, wherever he may be, and then it rings out, turns the very heart in his chest with the reverb.

He turns and Wanda’s gone. Nothing more but the particles swirling away in wind that comes from nowhere, but he knows it’s her. Just like how he knows that’s T’Challa, and that’s Shuri, and that’s Sam, and—

Bucky’s always in full, the only one he actually saw turn to dust, and the nightmares never dull down the effect.

He’s young, sometimes.

Sometimes he’s eight, like when they first met, sometimes he’s seventeen, like the first time they kissed, sometimes he has his uniform hat set jauntily on his head, like the first time war took him, sometimes it’s the Soldier, saying nothing as he crumbles—

This time he’s Bucky, his Bucky, the one he fell asleep next to.

He stumbles, looks down at his disappearing hands, meets Steve’s eye, says his name, soft, and he’s gone too.

This is where Steve sways, stumbles and falls to his knees trying to gather them up, bring them back even though he knows it won’t do anything, dust to dust, ashes to ashes, it’s all the same and they aren’t coming back—

And then. He looks to his. His left.

Nat smiles. He can’t help thinking that she looks beautiful today, full of hope and determination like he hasn’t seen in years, undeniably young.

“See you in a minute,” she says, clear as day, and her mouth quirks up and then her shoulder starts disintegrating.

“No,” he gasps and remembers—

—months on months where they slept in the same bed, where she was the only person he would talk to on his bad days, where they finally sat on the roof of the compound with a bottle of vodka that didn’t affect either of them in the slightest and she said, I don’t think we’ll ever be okay, but we have to try, and believing her

reaches for her and he can’t, he can’t, he’s too far away but still close enough to see her look confused, for a second, tilting her head and asking, “Steve?” and she’s

                   not there.

 

He woke up choking on a sob. The room was a different dark than his in the compound, the sheets softer. He’s having a hard time placing the whole body ache through the tightness, the churning dread in his chest.

It’d been a few weeks since one of those nightmares, and he’d thought with Bucky—

Bucky—

“Buck,” he got out, reaching for—her— the other (it’s empty, it’s empty) side of the bed, barely warm, and he sat up abruptly to look for Sam, but the bed across was empty too, sheets neatly kicked aside and the panic grew, grew, grew

The door opened.

 

bucky

Bucky tried being quiet coming in but it wasn’t necessary. Steve was up, drenched in sweat and wild beyond measure until he laid eyes on Bucky. His shoulders started shaking.

“Buck,” he breathed and Bucky was in the bed before he knew what to do with himself, pulling Steve into his chest. Steve clutched at his shirt, buried his face in his throat.

Bucky ran a hand through his damp hair, arm tightening around his waist, “Hey, hey, baby. What’s wrong?”

Steve shook his head, “Nightmare. Just a nightmare.”

“Doesn’t sound like just an anything,” Bucky muttered and smoothed his thumb over the nape of his neck, clinking gently against the chain of his dog tags.

“Always get them,” Steve said, starting to take deeper breaths. “Every night, at first.”

Bucky didn’t know how the fuck he didn’t guess it the second he’d walked in. Steve had a nightmare and when he woke up they were both gone, fuck. Bucky gathered him up closer, slowly lowering them back onto the bed. “You need a second? Want me to give you space?”

“Yeah. No,” he said, punched out, and pulled back only to grab Bucky’s face in his hands, eyes glassy and bloodshot. They were flickering over all the angles like ping pong balls. “Just. Just needa look at you.”

Bucky couldn’t look away. He nodded, “’Course, sweetheart. Look all you want.”

Steve nodded back. He was only breathing through his nose, now, carefully starting to map the track he’d already marked with his eyes with his fingers, over Bucky’s cheekbones, the bridge of his nose, his brow bone.

When they lingered on his lips he kissed them softly, taking the hand in his own. Steve’s eyelashes fluttered and he leaned closer so their foreheads were pressed together, finally closing his eyes.

“I see all of you,” he whispered, voice even. “One by one. You, especially. Just—Gone. But. I saw. I saw Nat, too. And I couldn’t reach her. She—“

Quiet. Bucky kissed him for the contact, the reassurance more than anything. Steve’s hands snaked down to wrap around his waist, press under his shirt and against the beat in his chest. They pulled apart in a breath, Steve ducking his head to go back to the crook of Bucky’s throat.

“I can’t believe she’s gone,” and he could barely tell it was him who’d spoken despite himself.

Steve’s mouth moved carefully against his skin, grief-stained, “I miss her. God, I miss her. We wouldn’t have won without her, but I’d give anything…”

“Me too. Anything to get our girl back.”

He didn’t know how long they stayed like that, tangled in each other and surviving the aftershocks. The grief didn’t permeate him like before, more the longing to hear her rare laugh one last time than the all-encompassing thing that almost brought him to his knees before. He let himself feel it.

“Why were you up?”

Bucky waited a second, now focusing on smoothing that stubborn cowlick Steve’d had behind his ear since they were kids, “I had an appointment with Tony. We talked.”

“Tony,” Steve echoed. Despite everything, Bucky felt him smile. “Went well, then?”

“Yeah. He cried, I cried. Sam’ll be proud when I tell him in the morning. Right now he’s being swindled by Tony’s kid in the kitchen.”

He gave a soft, sad laugh. “Yeah. Morgan’s sharp as a whip. Y’know who she reminds me of sometimes?”

“Just like baby Becca,” Bucky agreed. Not physically, no, Becca’d been tall even at that age, dark curls and bright blue eyes and always scraped up somehow. But Steve knew. Becca’d been as good as his, too.

“I miss her too, sometimes.”

Bucky didn’t know a day when he hadn’t thought of Rebecca in Wakanda, what with hanging out with Shuri, who was yet another dead ringer for his sister. He’d learned to remember she’d lived a good long life instead even if she’d died a year before Steve found him. At least she never got to knowing what they’d done to him.

He let his hand fall on the space of pillow between them. “I don’t think the missing them part will ever stop.”

“Yeah.” Steve started tracing the lines of his palm, his fingers, the veins of his wrist. He stopped as he pressed his thumb in, pulled his hand closer.

Bucky suddenly realized why he kept doing that. Keeping pulse.

Oh, Stevie.

Bucky hauled him closer with an arm around his shoulders. Steve let himself be manhandled like he’d only recently started doing (though recently might be relative to the both of them), pressed the ear that used to be his good one before they both were against Bucky’s chest.

“Never does.”

 

Bucky got up in the middle of the night not to any kind of nightmare—More just the impression of something bad, something dark and yawning that had him opening his eyes in a cold sweat. Too much silence in  the bones of him that roared back with his pulse.

Steve made mumbled noises of protest as Bucky slowly peeled him off, smoothing his hair down to will him back asleep.

Sam was already in the bathroom when he stumbled in, sitting in the bathtub with his head between his knees, taking deep breaths. His eyes darted up as Bucky shut the door and—Bucky felt a newfound gratefulness when his shoulders relaxed instead of tensed.

“You too?” He asked.

Sam exhaled through his nose carefully, “If by ‘too’ you mean ‘panic attack’ then, yeah, sure. ‘S been a stressful day.” He let his head fall again. Muttered, “Had a dream ‘bout falling.”

“Falling sucks,” Bucky agreed and Sam gave a self-deprecating laugh. He didn’t move closer despite only recently having regained his instinct to comfort. Steve was alright with Bucky touching him when he was like this, but he’d never been with Sam for one.

“You can stay,” Sam mumbled. He motioned vaguely, “Just. I need a minute before. Further interaction.”

“You sure, man? There’re other bathrooms—“

“This is the Team Cap breakdown bathroom, sit your ass down.”

Bucky huffed and let his back hit the opposite wall, sliding down to sit with one knee tucked up. His heart’s still racing but something about Sam’d always been comforting to him, despite their shtick.

He stayed quiet per Sam’s request until he finally straightened out, legs unfolding to stretch over the side of the tub. He folded his hands over his stomach.

“I don’t know. It hasn’t really set in, y’know? How much time’s passed.” He sank back, shrugging his shoulders, “Tony has a kid.”

“Yeah, that was pretty jarring.”

Sam nodded, humming low in his throat. He jerked his head toward the empty space next to him, “Alright, c’mere, Barnes. I’m okay.”

Bucky went over, settling where he’d been told to. Sam immediately let his head fall onto Bucky’s shoulder. Bucky let his legs spill out, heel tapping the bathroom floor.

“You keep saying your conscription number,” Sam muttered.

Bucky stilled his tapping but played the echoes back through his head. Yeah, he had been.

“Huh,” Bucky said very intelligently. “Guess I have.”

“You do that whenever you zone out. Or you’re thinking. I noticed it in Wakanda a lot. ‘Cause I’m observant like that.”

There was a time where he’d’ve been unnerved that someone noticed something like that about him. That he was so predictable he had a tic.

Now it was more. Reassuring. Human of him.

Bucky shrugged the shoulder Sam’s head was on, earning himself a swat. “Probably started on the table when I was first captured by HYDRA during the war. Steve told me I kept saying it over and over. Nakia was the first person to notice it, actually.”

“Hm. Nat—“ He paused. Drew something in the air with a finger. “Nat did something similar. When we were waiting or hiding she would be mimicking different ballet positions with one foot. She knew ‘bout it, too, probably bad form on a spy’s part to have a tell for when she was anxious, but she said it was kinda like a fuck you to the Red Room. I didn’t pry.”

Bucky felt him smile, as bittersweet as it was. Fuck you indeed.

The sheets of one of the beds rustled outside and Steve was bursting in a second later hair sticking up in every direction and chest moving rapidly.

“See,” Sam said vaguely. He pointed. “Team Cap breakdown bathroom. Patent pending. Get fucked.”

“Up yours, birdbrain.” Bucky responded.

Steve looked between them, tenseness in his shoulders relaxing even as he was still cocking his head in confusion, the doof. Sleep’s still got a good grip on him. “Wha?”

Bucky shook his head and scooted toward the far end of the tub, motioning for Sam to follow. Sam pointed beside him, “You get the side with the drain for being last. Unless you’re gonna go back outside. In that case, good night.”

“Why would I do that ‘n let you guys have all the fun?” Steve mumbled before depositing himself in place. He had to shove Sam even closer to Bucky which Bucky graciously used to dig his cold metal arm into Sam’s side.

He shut his eyes.

 

Bucky woke up the next morning to Peter going, “Oh, here they are,” and a crick in his neck. Sam came to with a snort and a tightening of his arms from where they were hugging Bucky’s.

The kid was still in pajamas, an already dressed Happy peeking in behind him. Steve threw up a drowsy peace sign.

“Christ,” Happy muttered and left. Peter fumbled to return the peace sign before going after him.

 

They went running with Sam, ‘because if he’s about anything he’s about his routine’ despite their various states of sleep deprivation. Bucky’d rarely gone with them when they would in Wakanda, but he indulged today for the sole purpose of trading a smirk with Steve and pulling ahead to yell, “On your right!” in Sam’s face.

The answering, “Fuck you!” was probably worth the inciting ten minute long chase that ended in Bucky climbing and subsequently getting knocked out of a tree by Sam hitting him with a well-aimed rock. The landing barely felt like anything because Bucky landed on his left arm and rolled, but he played it up enough with the moans and groans that he made Tony’s kid start laughing. It was honestly worth it.

Rhodey leaned over the back of the couch just as Bucky was finishing picking the leaves out of his hair and flicking them at Sam. “Sarge. Gotta phone call for you.”

Bucky immediately ceased all thoughts of getting Sam’s mattress into the lake, sitting up and shifting to look at him, “Wakanda?”

Rhodey nodded, mouth twitching. He handed over a phone, gesturing at it with his chin, “His Highness. Nothing’s wrong, don’t worry.”

“Okay,” Bucky said. He hadn’t had time to register that the speed up of his heart rate was panic until Rhodey said it, but. “Thanks.”

“No problem, man. Sam, if you’re done putting the leaves back in his hair,” Bucky abruptly swatted at the hovering feeling near his right ear to Sam’s yelp, “we need you for something downstairs. Any of your vets have deep muscle trauma?”

Sam blinked before his serious face came on. “A couple. Why?”

Rhodey tapped his his right arm and Bucky felt the panic come up again. He knew before Rhodey said it, “Tony. Need a second opinion, superficially.”

“Got it,” he stood up, cuffing Bucky’s shoulder as he went.

Bucky watched them go for a second before turning back to the phone. The message was still there and Bucky answered with a, White Wolf here.

The phone rang.

“T’Challa?”

“Bucky,” T’Challa responded, relieved and tired in equal measure. Nothing too bad. Bucky let out a breath. “How are you? Did you guys arrive alright?”

“Everything’s great here. How’s it going on your end?”

“Same as you,” he heard the rustle of cloth so he was either in bed or sitting down somewhere, his throne. Bucky willed the ever-analyzing part of his brain to shut up, for once. “We don’t seem to have anything wrong, physically, mentally, or otherwise. I am just glad to be back.”

Bucky nodded, “Me too. Is Nakia there? Queen Ramonda?”

“Yes. Nakia is currently in the bathroom, meaning it is the only time she will let me out of her sight.” Bucky snorted and T’Challa made a dismissing noise mixed with a word in Xhosa meaning c’mon, “Don’t start that with me. How’s Steve?”

“Currently not attached to my hip, if that’s your question.”

T’Challa sniffed, but Bucky absolutely heard his smirk, “I never asked that.”

“Uh huh. How’s Wanda?”

“Sleeping. Coming up on almost fourteen hours now. Her vitals are regaining stability after using so much power. Sam?”

“I’m picking leaves out of my hair, how d’ya think he is?”

T’Challa laughed quietly for a second. Bucky felt the question come before he said it.

“When is the funeral?”

“Not sure,” Bucky responded, hushed. His voice sounded a little too much like it did after cryo. “Probably tomorrow, or the day after. Nothing too big. Just when everybody can.”

“I’ll ask around for tomorrow. I am sure we can do it.”

Bucky hummed his assent. He leaned back, pressing the phone closer to his ear. “See you then, I guess. Tell everybody I said hi.”

He heard Nakia’s voice, faint through a door closing, before T’Challa said, “Actually, want to talk with Nakia?”

“Yes.”

There was a second of static before Nakia gave a quiet, “James?”

“Yeah, in the flesh,” and she made a short noise.

“Sehkmet and Bast, I’ve missed you. When are you coming home?”

The word took Bucky aback.

It wasn’t that he didn’t think of Wakanda as his home. It was. Honest.

But there was a reason he hadn’t gone with them. Yeah, Steve’s slightly desperate looked he kept throwing them was one thing, Bucky hadn’t had to give it a second thought. It’d been five years.

He finally answered, “After the funeral, I think. Steve’s gotta return the Stones and then I’ll go home.”

“I’ve missed you. We all have.” Her voice went clearer, like she was holding the phone closer to her ear, “One of your children, Amare. He and his little sister were left orphaned by it, so I let them stay in the cottage. They took over the goats and your garden while you were gone. Everything is the same. Are you okay with that?”

That stopped him cold. Oh god, Amare. He’d been one of Bucky’s most frequent visitors, maybe one of the first to tell him his actual name instead of howling.  Bucky’d seen him the day before the battle; it'd been his ma’s birthday that week and he’d kept her present at Bucky’s house so she wouldn’t find it.

“His parents…?”

“Back. He’s staying with them, of course, but. So you know.”

Amare would be fifteen. That was horrifying, somehow. Steve hadn’t even been that old when his ma died, let alone both parents, just like that. Let alone a little sister to look after.

“Of course I’m fine with it, Jesus. I’ll—“ He swallowed hard. “I’ll be there. Don’t worry.”

“I’ll see you at the funeral, then?”

"Yeah. See you then."

Steve didn’t look back when Bucky came into Tony's room, but he held his hand out anyway. Bucky took it, lacing their fingers together slowly.

“Tony can’t move his arm,” he said carefully.

“It’s a big ol’ bust, ladies and gents,” Tony announced as Sam poked curiously at his elbow. His face actually looked better from what Bucky could see, the black of the burn almost entirely drained. Except for his arm, obviously. It looked worse than yesterday, darker. “It doesn’t even hurt. My entire body aches like hell, but I can’t feel it. It’s all floppy and shit.”

Peter made a face from where he was sitting next to the bed, “Like in Harry Potter.”

Bucky wrinkled his nose because, yeah, that was gross, and Steve seemed to catch on a second later. Tony demonstrated the apparent floppiness by lifting his arm up with his opposite hand and letting it drop. Eugh.

Sam pointed, “Yup, that doesn’t look right.”

“Thanks. Helpful.”

Rhodey spoke from where he was watching at the foot of the bed, arms crossed, “See, we’re all joking right now, but arms aren’t supposed to do that. We should be worrying, I think.”

“No, this is cute, let’s keep it going,” Tony said.

Bucky narrowed his eyes before motioning at his arm with Steve and he’s joined hands, “If you get your AI to scan it, I can send it over to Shuri. She could check it out.”

Tony squinted, “Who the hell’s a Shuri?”

“My mechanic in Wakanda.”

Peter brightened, “Oh yeah. She’s super cool.”

“Ah. Okay.” He stared at Bucky’s arm with a look that meant he wanted to take it apart and said with too much sincerity, “So I trust her with my life.”

Rhodey gave a sigh of the long-suffering and his face fell into one hand, “Tony.”

Tony gestured to Bucky with a wide arc of his arm, fluttering his fingers and leaving Sam's jaw to hit the floor, “Look at it. That thing’s a piece of art, man. Friday already did a scan, get on it, Jimmy.”

“We’re not doing that,” Bucky said, but nodded and accepted a tablet from Rhodey.

“Doing what, Jimbo?”

“That. We’re not doing that.”

Sam finally shut his mouth before Bucky could tell him he was gonna catch flies, "Since when've you two been so buddy-buddy?"

“Sammy, buddy, that's old new already, keep up. Cap, tell your boyfriend that if he wants us to be pals he’ll have to suck it up and deal with the nicknames.”

Steve looked at Bucky and gave a tired kind of shrug, more for show than anything, “Honestly, I think I can count the number of times he’s called me by my first name on one hand.”

“I mean, I only have the one.”

Sam snorted, holding up a fist, "Fight the man, Bucket."

Tony gave a wide smile, “Oh, Bucket, I like that.”

“Goddamnit,” Bucky said under his breath, sitting down heavily to start sending the scans. Maybe he was grinning. Just a little.

“Wait,” Peter said suddenly. He was staring down at his hands before pointing one at Tony, “When. You said boyfriend. Did you mean—“

“—it very literally? Oh yeah.” Peter gaped, suddenly looking between Steve and Bucky like his brain was rearranging them. Tony waved his hand, “Don’t feel bad, kid, I didn’t notice until Cap told me a few weeks ago and that was after he beat my ass for kicking Bucket here in the face—“

Sam barked a laugh, “Christ, Tony, seriously?”

Rhodey put a finger up, “Tony has zero gaydar despite being of dubious sexuality himself—“

Bucky snapped his head up. His turn to gawk now, what?

“I will not deny my dalliances in college—“

“And that TA and that reporter and that chef guy in Switzerland—“

“Question, Rhodes, why’re you so obsessed with me?”

“You tell me literally everything. In explicit detail.”

Peter put his hands up to his face in a great impression of The Scream. Or maybe the kid from Home Alone. “Seriously? How did I not know this?”

“Oh, should I add that to everybody’s profiles in the Welcome to the Avengers packet I didn’t give you?”

“Yes,” Peter and Bucky said together.

 

steve

Steve left them all (he wasn’t sure whether he was betraying Bucky by leaving him at Sam and Tony’s mercy, Tony at Sam and Bucky’s, or just Rhodey because of all three of them) to get something to eat because despite the big breakfast he had while Sam chased Bucky all across the front yard, supersoldier metabolism didn’t really allow for him to feel full. Pepper was at the table with a screen up, sipping her coffee. She pulled a seat out for him next to her with her foot so he grabbed a pear from the fruit bowl and sat.

“What’re you doing now?”

She set down her mug, both hands still wrapped around it, “Sending statements to the news outlets. I feel like it’s better than a tweet. I’m also organizing for Peter’s aunt May to take a quinjet with the Bartons over here.” She eyes the pear and looked back at the screen, “You know there are pre-prepared fruit salads in the fridge, right? I bought them on Tuesday, they’re still fresh.”

Her tone was light but extremely judgmental in a way only Pepper managed. He frowned at his pear and despite the fact she wasn’t even glancing his way, felt watched. He sighed and got up to go to the fridge, dropping the pear back off.

“You couldn’t have even grabbed an apple which is, objectively, more normal to eat casually than a pear.”

“I like pears, Pepper,” Steve said and grabbed a salad, careful it didn't have strawberries, and two forks.

She took one and smiled, “Thanks.”

“I’m legitimately terrified at who Morgan’s gonna be when she grows up with you two as her parents.”

Pepper chewed on a piece of watermelon thoughtfully for a second. She fiddled with the end of the fork as she thought. “Happy, hopefully. I’d thought…” The fiddling stopped in favor of touching her wedding ring, “When Tony…”

He put a hand on her shoulder, squeezing it once, “Yeah. Me too.”

“All I could think about is that he wouldn’t get to watch her grow up,” she whispered before covering half her face with a hand, supporting it on the table. She set her other one over his. “I was so terrified. And Nat…” Her eyes weren’t red when she looked at him, but they were glazed over, “I was so sure I’d lose more of you. I’m so glad you’re all okay.”

“We’re okay and we’re here to stay, Pep. I promise.” He shrugged at the screen, “Y’know, if you need a break, I can take over.”

She tapped his hand and shook her head, “Thanks, but you know me. The quality of not being able to sit still when there are things to be done isn’t unique to you and Tony.”

He thought to argue, but then again she also knew how many times he illegally fudged his papers to enlist in the army. So. Futile fight.

 

And like Pepper said, he didn’t like sitting still, but there wasn’t much to do. Bucky’d sent the scan to Shuri and Sam’d taken a turn with the tablet to video call his sister, who spent a clean four minutes yelling at Tony for arresting her brother, then Sam for dying without her permission, before bursting into tears. Steve couldn’t exactly blame Sam for tearing up through it, especially when his nephew popped into the frame.

Steve and Natasha’d gotten their own yelling when they’d visited them in Harlem after the Snap, but Sarah would still invite them to lunch every now and then. He got to watch Jody grow up, more or less, but Sam’s just seeing the product of a five year blip. Left a twelve year old came back to a high school graduate already enrolled in Columbia. Sam’s brother Gideon took more time to warm up to them but one day he just suddenly started coming to the lunches with his son.

Sam wiped at his eyes, “I’ll be around as soon as I can, okay?”

Sarah was still recovering from being told about Nat but she nodded, “You better. If it weren’t for Jody’s award ceremony, I’d drag you back here right now, tooth and nail, Samuel. You, me, and the other one. Family reunion, okay?”

“Counting on it,” Sam said faithfully, showing off his gap with a beaming smile. Bucky met Steve’s eye and Steve knew he was itching to say something but Steve cut a sharp hand across his throat.

Sarah cleared her throat, looking remarkably like Sam as she pushed her hair back to clip it, folding her arms in front of her and motioning a lazy hand, “And you can bring your supers and everything, as long as you clean up after their messy asses.”

“I resent that,” Steve said.

“And I get to touch his arm!” Jody called in the background, pointing at Bucky through the screen.

Sam made a face, “You don’t want to touch his arm, it’ll give you cooties.”

“That’s albeist,” Bucky said immediately and Jody cackled.

Sam, miraculously, joined in. Steve realized he’d forgotten how he wheezed when he laughed.

God, he really had missed them.

Steve spent most of the day drifting around in their wake, because as much as Sam shit on Steve for being a planet in Bucky’s orbit, all four of them were their own system. Three.

That was one thing he didn’t like about the free time. Her absence was so much more apparent. There was no one to back up Bucky’s dry comments or to share in Steve’s suffering when Sam found a whole new thing to shit on Bucky about. Usually easy going moments would fizzle out like a bad candle. Bucky would press himself into Steve’s side. Sam would shut his eyes for a second, hands folding like he was praying for that moment.

They had enough distractions to keep that to a minimum, though. Peter was kind of like a puppy now that he was comfortable around all of them and he had absolutely zero filter to stop himself from asking things like, Hey, do you think Spongebob—You know Spongebob, right? Do you think he was supposed to be blonde or bald? which left Bucky incapacitated for a good minute in his shock.

The chance to catch up with Rhodey, Pepper, and Happy was also much appreciated. The chance to be Morgan’s uncle and Tony’s friend and Bucky’s guy instead of Steve Rogers, perpetually Captain America, perpetually in a state of anxiety because the world ended and they couldn’t do shit to fix it, was nice.

Morgan roped Peter, Bucky, and Tony into a tea party outside since the weather was nice, cramming them all around her tiny table. Rhodey had to help Tony across the yard and he got the exception of a lawn chair instead of the small wooden ones, but he was still wearing a tiara.

Sam was taking pictures like it was his job, naturally. He stopped after a second as he looked over them, putting his phone away and sitting back with a heavy sigh. “I was about to say I wished Nat were here to see this.”

“She’d probably be sitting there with them.”

“You’re right,” he agreed, grinning a little.

Pepper’s phone pinged beside them and after checking it she took Steve’s hand for a second, barely holding it. More a reassurance than anything.

“Everybody confirmed for tomorrow,” she said quietly. “Natasha’s funeral’s on.”

“Oh shit,” Sam breathed and let his phone fall between his legs. Steve lifted his head back toward the tea party where Bucky lazily held a tiny tea cup in his metal hand, pinky extended, narrowly dodging all of Peter’s tea cup swinging as he talked to them animatedly.

Bucky caught his eye and rose an eyebrow. Steve shook his head once, mouthing, Later, to which Bucky saluted his tea cup before taking an exaggerated sip of it that Tony mirrored, both nodding at Morgan.

Pepper was watching too, leaning into Steve’s side, “It’s going to be a rough day.”

Sam took a shaky breath, “Yeah. Yeah it is.”

 

There were three plain suits hanging on the back of their door like ghosts by the time they were getting ready to turn in. They hadn’t tried them on but just by eyeballing them they should fit, cobbled together by spares from Tony, Rhodey, and Happy.

Bucky sat and stared at them from their bed until Steve settled down behind him and pulled him to lay down, kissing his shoulder. Sam turned off the light.

Steve didn’t have nightmares, mostly because a nightmare required sleep. He was sure not one of them even had their eyes closed.

 

People were supposed to start coming early, so getting dressed was the first thing. The pants didn’t fit, he had to switch out for dark slacks he found in the cabinet, and the suit jacket was tight at his shoulders, but it was something.

“We’re okay,” Steve said quietly as Bucky reached forward and fixed his tie meticulously.

“No we’re not,” Sam said from the bathroom. He came in with his hands in his pockets, put together as ever. “I don’t think we’re gonna be. At least not for a while. But.”

Bucky took a step back, still eyeing Steve’s tie like it would undo itself and ruin his work. “We’re not okay. But we will be. And today we’re allowed not to be.”

Sam cuffed his arm gently, “That’s about right.”

 

No one ate except for Peter and Morgan, though Peter’s eating was a banana Happy forced into his hand and even Morgan, with whatever understanding she had of what happened, ate her cereal too slow.

Tony came downstairs supported by Pepper, leaning even more on a red and gold cane with the hand not in a sling. He sat heavily, immediately grabbing the nearest steaming mug—Sam’s—and downing it. The bags under his eyes could've been neon and been no more prominent.

“So who’s giving the eulogy?”

He set the mug down with an empty thud.

Whatever semblance of lack of tension disappeared.

“I would give it a go, but seeing as I didn’t talk to her for a good seven years, I don’t think I’d do much good.”

The undercurrent of guilt wasn’t missed and Steve muttered, “Don’t blame yourself, Tony.”

Tony said nothing but the line of his shoulders sagged.

Sam cleared his throat, taking the mug back just to have something in his hands, “I was out for five.”

Steve didn’t even have to look at Bucky. He could feel the waves of aversion to the topic rolling off him.

So he spoke. “I was with her.” They all looked at him and Steve nodded, “I’ll do it.”

"Peter," Pepper said quietly from her seat. She had her hands folded in front of her, pinky tapping out a nervous rhythm. "Do you think you could take Morgan around to pick some flowers right now? Something we can put out on the lake then give to the Bartons for her grave?"

Peter shoved the rest of the banana in his mouth and nodded, getting up. Morgan was already on her feet, taking Peter's hand when he offered it. Steve caught her asking, "Are we gonna make Auntie Nat look pretty?" and had a feeling everybody else at the table did too because Pepper gave a shuddering breath and Sam got up for more coffee.

 

Tony and Steve were the designated greeters with the addition of Bucky he wanted to be there for when the Wakandans showed up.

Thor and Bruce were the first to arrive in that surge of Bifrost Steve hadn’t seen since Wakanda, the woman he knew as Valkyrie and her pegasus in tow. They were all already in their suits, Bruce’s arm in a sling.

“There goes my greenest garden award,” Tony muttered, but the relief in his voice wasn’t missed.

“Uncle Bruce!” Morgan yelled and ran across the field to be the first to meet with them. He got down on one knee to accept the hug with his available arm. Morgan kissed her palm before smacking her tiny hand onto his sling. She switched off him to latch onto Thor, jumping to get her arms around his middle, “You’re Uncle Thor but softer. I like it.”

Thor seemed as emotional over being called Uncle as Steve’d been, shooting them all a bright-eyed look before picking Morgan up and throwing her in the air so she giggled as she was caught again, “That I am! You must be the mighty Daughter of Stark. I’ve hear much about you’re many victories and conquests, though you’ll really have to excuse my recollection of most of them, I was drunk out of my mind—“

“Thor,” Bruce interrupted and plucked Morgan out of the air on the next throw, setting her down with a ruffle to her hair.

Bruce looked back up and waved at all of them as Morgan started forward again, toward Valkyrie with a, “Hi. You’re cool. I like your horse.”

Steve started forward to meet Bruce in the middle, hugging him briefly. Thor more tackled him than anything, but he’d been expected that, so he laughed and accepted it. Less expected was Thor picking him up just like he did Morgan and swinging him around (thankfully not throwing him in the air), “You’re worthy! I knew you were!”

“I sure as hell didn’t,” Steve said and pat Thor’s back as he was set down. “I had to try. I was worried you were a goner.”

“Me too.” Thor responded earnestly and clapped both hands on Steve’s shoulders to shake him once, “But you saved my life! I am in your debt. If you ever need a favor, I don’t know,” he motioned back toward the mark on the front lawn, “free travel, just give me a call. Well, give Bruce a call. I still don’t have a phone. I have a Discord.”

The only discord Steve knew was the musical kind so he decided to nod, say, “Sure, I’ll call Bruce,” and leave it at that.

“Excellent!”

Steve took a step back and didn’t have to look back as he reached for Bucky, using the hand in his to guide the arm around his waist. He felt Bucky take the step forward, shoulder to shoulder, as Steve said, “It’s weird to think you guys’ve never met, but. Thor, Bruce, this is Bucky. Buck—“

“Thor, Bruce. Got it,” Bucky said easily and held his hand out.

Bruce shook it and ducked his head to speak, “It’s great to finally meet you. Steve’s told us a lot.” Bucky gave Steve a look and Steve neither confirmed nor denied. Bruce let go of Bucky’s hand and gestured at his shoulder, “Your arm’s impressive. Vibranium?”

“Yeah. I’ll make sure to pass the compliment on to my engineer.”

“Double it.” Thor said and took his hand next, pausing to say, “Are hugs okay?”

Bucky blinked at him before nodding and Thor gave him the same deal he gave Steve sans being spun around, which Bucky looked pretty thankful for. He pulled away and patted Bucky’s arm, “I only asked because the first time I hugged Natasha without warning she stabbed me. Which I’m used to, so no hard feelings.” His smile went sadder around the corners just like Steve was sure his was, “But I think she would do it again, were she able, if I showed up to her honoring in a ripped suit.”

“I had to convince him out of the crocs,” Bruce said.

Tony came up on Steve’s other side, “I think I would’ve done the stabbing honors if you’d shown up in those.” He poked at Bruce’s sling and pointed between his, “Hey, look. Twinsies.”

“We brought alcohol,” Valkyrie said as she came closer, holding Morgan carefully on the pegasus’ back. She bumped her hip up so her pack came into view, “If not to drink, then to pour out.”

“Much appreciated, dapper warrior lady,” Tony responded.

Scott came next with Hope Van Dyne and her parents in a Pym labelled helicopter. He kept fidgeting with his suit, his energy more anxious then excited as Steve'd come to know it. "Scott told me a lot about her," Hope said when she shook Steve's hand. She sounded and looked genuine. "I wish I'd gotten the chance to meet her."

"She'd've wanted to know you too," Steve responded and they went to join the others inside.

Sam came out with his phone because apparently T'Challa texted that they'd be there in a minute. Steve didn't even notice they were touching down until he looked up because of how silent the ship was, landing gently on the mark the bifrost left on the lawn. Nakia practically ran Steve over on her way to throw her arms around Sam and Bucky. Steve gave Wanda the same treatment and the fragile way she folded into him made him want to put her to bed again.

“I can’t believe she’s gone,” she whispered and Steve muttered, “I know,” against the crown of her head.

When they separated, she eyed Tony over his shoulder, darting back to give Steve a questioning look he appeased with a nod. Tony leaned a little more heavily on the cane when he came forward, “So who’s doing introductions?”

Bucky was still being half-strangled by Nakia, but he made the attempt anyway, patting her back, “This is Nakia, Wakandan special ops.”

“I am General Okoye of the Dora Milaje,” Okoye said in that tone of her voice that meant Don’t even try looking me in the eye and she made no move to hold her hand out. She did, however, slide her gaze over to Steve and wink so that no one else could see as T’Challa did go up to shake Tony’s hand.

“It’s nice to see you again, Tony,” he said earnestly.

Tony nodded, “You too. Nice suit.” He craned his neck to see Shuri coming out last, closing the jet’s door with her kimoyo beads. “Who’s the kid?”

“I’m Shuri,” she said absentmindedly before her head snapped up and her face split open in awe. “And you’re Tony Stark! Oh my gods, you figured out time travel.” She rushed forward, hands flying, “Way too late, admitably, with me here it could have been faster, but you did it regardless.”

Tony blinked at her as she took his hand and shook it once. She had a strong ass grip, so his wince was warranted.

“You’re Shuri? Like Robocop’s arm Shuri?”

“I know, not my best work. It wasn’t meant to actually go into battle but,” she said with a glare shot at the offending arm and Tony’s eyes bugged out. Nakia had surrendered Sam and Bucky to link her arms through theirs and Bucky shrugged at him.

They went inside and left Steve and Tony on the yard for the rest of their people. Tony sat on the bench with a humph, perching his chin on his cane, “How old’s Shuri?”

“Sixteen,” Steve responded, sitting beside him.

“I gotta say, this might be the first time I felt like I lacked the braincells to talk to someone.”

“Fear of being usurped?”

“More like counting on it, honestly.”

Doctor Strange next, as he did, out of thin air. It was—well—It was strange to see him in a normal suit and not the whole get up. He tucked his hands behind him as the portal closed, “I figured at least one of you would be out here. Do I go inside?”

“You sure do, asshole,”

Maria, Carol, and Fury were after him, along with a woman who had to be Monica Rambeau, Carol’s daughter. It’d taken a while, but Carol had finally told them it hadn’t just been Fury who she’d lost in the Snap. She and Steve made maybe the best efforts to get drunk that night than they had the entire five years.

Steve stood, remembering sharply why they were here because of the look on Fury’s face. He said nothing apart from, “I’m not doing hugs,” before shaking their hands and going inside. Hill did hug, but she was just as silent, going after Fury with her head bowed.

Carol was messing with her tie when she walked closer, sweeping her arm out, “Steve, Tony, this is Monica.”

“Captain Rogers,” Monica addressed him, grinning wide. She held out her hand to him, then Tony, “Tony Stark. Never really thought I’d meet the two of you, even though you’re all Uncle Nick would complain about for a month straight after the New York invasion.”

Tony froze as he shook her hand, “Did you just. Uncle Nick?”

“Yup,” she said before glancing at Carol and rolling her eyes, smacking at her hands. “Mom, I said I could help you.”

“I got punched in the face by Thanos, I can tie my own stupid fucking tie,” Carol muttered but let her hands fall for Monica to fix it. The sides of her mouth lifted a bit when Monica stepped away and Carol put an arm around her shoulders, kissing the top of her head and steering her toward the door, “Thanks, trouble. Start going inside, I’ll catch up.”

Monica waved at all of them as she left. Carol watched her go inside before looking back at them, the soft smile disappearing. “Who’re we missing?”

“The Bartons,” Steve said quietly. He crossed his arms, “How’re you holding up?”

“Better with them back, but, you know.” She shoved her hands into her pockets, jaw working. “She’d wanted to meet Monica. Have a dinner with Nick and everybody. It's just. A lot."

She followed Monica in. And out came Pepper with Bucky and Sam, which meant Clint would be getting there soon.

And then the Bartons. The first person off the jet was an attractive middle-aged woman he didn’t know, wobbling slightly in her heels. She looked completely out of her element, eyes going wider and wider at every face she was met with. She stuck on Tony, almost shaking, now, "Oh God, you look awful. Sorry. But. Where's Peter?"

"Inside and okay," Tony said and she grabbed her heels to run in, yelling a thanks. Aunt May, then.

Lucky was next, Nathaniel with a hand dug into the ruff of his fur, Lila holding her brother’s hand. Clint and Laura came up behind them all, Clint looking so put together in his suit it was almost unnerving. Even Laura looked like she knew it, glancing at him like the absence of coffee stains on his clothes was paradoxical, which it was.

He looked up from his shoes at Steve, bringing his hand up to his hearing aid like he was adjusting the volume. He signed anyway, Bad day. Super bad.

Steve frowned, signed back, Same here, and went in to hug him, then Laura.

Pepper shepherded the kids and Lucky inside carefully, murmuring about meeting Morgan and if they wanted any tea.

“Hey, scary,” Clint said, voice little more than a rasp, and threw the arm not clutching Laura’s hand around Bucky’s neck. He flailed the hand out at Sam, beckoning him in, “You too, come here. Depression pile, it’s time for hugs.”

Laura leaned closer to Steve, not taking her eyes off Clint, lips barely moving, “Was he really not with you guys? All these years?”

“For the majority of them, yeah,” Steve replied, trying to communicate the fact that he wouldn’t have wanted it that way, had it been his choice.

Laura nodded and kissed Clint’s cheek, signed an I love you before going inside.

“Steve, you joining?”

“Sure,” Steve said and did just that.

Their arrival meant the start of the proceedings, apparently, because everybody was gathered near the lake by the time they came in. Clint stopped at the view of the crowd, bumping back against Bucky and Steve. He scrambled a hand around before grabbing Bucky’s right one in both of his.

“I don’t know how I’m gonna do this,” he said. Paused. "We. I already chose a place to give her a tombstone. Under this tree she used to spend hours reading under while I taught Lila to shoot. But. I. I can't."

Sam put a hand on his shoulder, “You're not alone, man. We're here. We all love her. You'll be fine."

Another silent pause. Then he nodded jerkily and kept walking, relinquishing his hold on Bucky as they went outside.

The sky was blue and the sun shone brightly.

There wasn't much talking to stop when they were in full view anyway, the four of them stopping on the wooden deck. Steve shifted forward to speak.

"I don't think there's any official way to do this. I just want to say a few quick words. I’m not gonna say a lot because Nat hated my speeches and I think if I made her eulogy into some long-winded thing, she would come back to wring my neck herself.”

He took a breath. She wasn't here to hear it. She wouldn't. But he still felt like if he looked intently enough through the crowd, she'd be there, nodding him along.

“I didn’t think I’d be able to find a place for myself in the future when I first got here. I wasn’t planning on it, anyway. But. Nat was the person that made me realize it was possible by becoming someone I could trust. I don’t think anybody who didn’t know her would want to describe her as kind or generous or loyal to a fault, but. That’s what she was. One of the best people I ever got to know—I’ve lived long enough that that means something." He finally sweeped the crowd and Tony gave him an exaggerated okay sign despite the sadness on his face. "She was our team’s heart, despite the fact everything she’d been through suggested she shouldn’t have had one left to give. But Nat was strong, too. So she did. We wouldn’t be here without her.” “There’s not much else I can say beyond that, really. Clint?”

Clint startled. His eyes darted forward and back to Steve before stepping up next to him.

“What Steve said and more. I love her. She was my best friend and I’ll miss her more than anything.”

 

Morgan carried the bouquet of wildflowers to the end of the pier. Clint helped her lower it into the water carefully and they watched it drift off into the center of the glittering lake like some kind of gemstone.

Steve prayed for the first time in years. For her safety. For her peace.

 

All Steve wanted to do after was honestly nothing, but Bruce had already broken off with Tony and Shuri to set up the quantum platform. He had time to spare before he had to suit up, though, so he went to sit with Clint and Thor in the grass.

Clint had Lucky bundled into his lap like a baby, his head lolled back so his tongue was out and drooling. Clint had a sharp gaze on his kids, Thor making up most of the conversation, though he looked grateful when Steve showed up, which was valid since it was weird as hell to not see Clint talk.

“They’re not gonna disappear again,” Bucky said from beside him. He pet Lucky’s head while he folded himself cross-legged next to him.

Clint kicked at his shin, “Shut up."

"They aren't. And Steve's going to take the Stones back to prevent anyone from trying again," Thor said. Steve took his seat on his other side and Thor nudged him, "You are going, right? That's what Bruce is setting up?"'

Steve mhmed, leaning his hands back into the grass. It was warm and if it weren't for the suit maybe he would lay back and take it in.

“Thor," Bucky said and Thor lifted his head. "You went on the first time travel thing, right?"

"Were you with Steve? Do you know whatever dumb shit he did?"

Steve jerked his head up. Bucky was staring at him intently, expression controlled despite still addressing Thor.

“Ah, no, I wasn't. I went to Asgard for the Ether. I do know what shit he did,” he patted Steve's arm, "and yes, it was dumb."

"How do you know about that, Buck?"

"Eyes everywhere," he deadpanned before rolling his eyes. “Rhodey told me you did something stupid, last time. What did you do?”

So that’s when Steve opened his stupid mouth, because he said, “Depends which stupid thing he was talking about,” so Bucky threw his shoe at him. Steve yelped, dodging, but then Sam wacked him over the head.

Steve.”

“Sorry! Sorry, no, just, uh." He pursed his lips before saying, “Well. I made Rumlow and the rest of them think I was HYDRA so I could get the staff back, for one.”

Bucky said nothing. Sam muttered an exasperated, "Good Lord."

“And I. Sort of. Fought my past self. And told him you were alive.”

Sam squawked, "You what," at the same time that the other shoe came flying at Steve's head, “Why the hell would you do that—“

“It was the only thing that managed to get him to stop!”

"Very romantic," Clint said absentmindedly, petting down Lucky's ears.

"Very stupid," Bucky insisted.

Steve shrugged weakly, "I dunno, Clint just said it was romantic."

"Christ, Steve," Sam said from above him. He flapped his hands around, "Doesn't that cause an alternate time line or some shit? Weren't y'all trying to avoid that?"

"Well, it happened. Maybe I'll fix it on this go, but," he said and picked Bucky's shoes up, setting them on his lap to untie the laces.

Thor turned toward him, leaning his chin on one fist, "How much time do you think you have until you have to?"

Steve finished one shoe, handing it to Bucky and shrugging, "An hour or two? That's what Tony said."

"Okay." He abruptly smacked a hand down on Clint's thigh that made him yelp, "Barton, want to help me brief Steve on where we got our Stones from?"

Clint blinked at him before looking at Steve and going steely-faced. "Yeah. Sure. Maybe you'll have time to beat up the weird guardian dude on Vormir, while you're at it."

"I can try," Steve said, which meant something more along the lines of I'm absolutely going to do that so Thor started explaining security measures on Asgard.

 

They'd roped Nebula and a guy with weird sideburns he knew was part of Rocket's team to model the Power stone's containment when Steve's phone started ringing. He didn't have to look at it to know it was Bruce.

"We're ready on our end."

"Let me suit up. I'll be there."

 

He didn't say bye to anybody. There would be no reason to say bye. 

There would be no reason to say bye.

He bumped into Wanda and told her he'd see her later, if she was staying for dinner. T'Challa asked him to make sure Shuri wasn't terrorizing Bruce or Tony. Steve agreed to that.

 

The stealth suit didn't look any different than it had the last time he'd worn it, so many years ago. He tried not to let the fact that he looked like he did in 2014, beardless and shiny, was making his spin. He didn't like it. 

"You look like you did on the bridge," Bucky said from the bed, eyes unreadable.

Steve kissed his forehead, his nose, his mouth.

Not a goodbye.

 

"I promise you everything is secured," Shuri said, eyes dancing over all the tech.

Bruce’s glasses slipped down his nose, “Remember... You have to return the stones at the exact moment you got them. Or you're gonna open up a bunch of nasty alternative realities.”

Tony pushed them up for him with his cane, giving Steve a look, “More than we already have, probably.”

“Don't worry. Clip all the branches.” He gave a small two-fingered salute, closing the suitcase, “Got it.”

Bruce stopped his calibrating, hand dropping to his side, “You know, I tried. When I had the gauntlet, the Stones. I really tried to bring her back. I miss her, man.”

“Me too,” Tony said and shook his head. “I tried too. I swear, the second I thought it, there was this—Kickback. It was weird as fuck.” He wiggled his fingers, “Kinda like the Stones were saying Uh, no, fuck you.”

Something about it deflated the still burning hope in his chest. Not completely. He was the worst kind of optimist and he knew it, less optimism more stupid wishing. “At least we know.”

“We could still go with you,” Tony offered for maybe the fourth time in the last hour. “Four’s better than one.”

“You’re still heavily injured,” Steve said and turned toward Sam and Bucky, who looked ready to back Tony up. “And I don’t have to be the one to tell you both that a mission that requires covertness is better with less people. I’ve done it before. I’ll be in and out.”

Sam crossed his arms, tilting his head, “Yeah, yeah. We’ll see you in a bit then, alright, Brooklyn?”

“In time for dinner,” Steve assured, giving him a one-armed hug before turning toward Bucky.

Buck looked at him back, leaning on his heels. A piece of hair fell into his eyes that he blew out of the way.

“Don't do anything stupid 'till I get back,” Steve said quietly, mouth twitching.

Bucky blinked, almost smiling before deciding to give a watered-down smirk, “How can I? You're taking all the stupid with you.” He pulled Steve in closer by his waist, turning it into a fierce hug Steve returned in a heartbeat. He was so undeniably solid, perfectly present. Steve closed his eyes for a second, to remember it.

He pulled back, grinning, “Good luck kiss?”

Bucky actually considered it, shaking his head, “You’ll get it when you come back.”

“Guess I gotta go fast then, huh, honey?”

“Don’t give me time to miss you,” was all Bucky said in response, finally taking a step away. “I love you. Be safe, you punk.”

“Got it, jerk.”

He went up on the platform, picking back up the suitcase and Mjolner. Activated the suit.

“How long’s this gonna take?” Sam asked.

“For him? As long as it takes.” With a final click, Bruce held up a hand, “For us, five seconds.”

Tony peeked over at the screen, giving Steve a thumbs up, “You ready, Cap?”

Steve took a final breath of fresh air before getting the helmet on, “You bet.”

Shuri splayed her fingers out over the control panel, watching Steve and watching the machine, “Okay. Going quantum in three. Two. One.”

The bottom of Steve's stomach swooped and he was pulled away.