Bucky knows. He doesn't even have to look over his shoulder to see for himself. Steve left him. He lived a life with Peggy, and you know what? Maybe Bucky’s a little bit mad about it. The world sees Steve as some martyr who can never be selfish, but Bucky? Bucky knows. When Steve wants something, you best know everyone else can go to hell for all he cares. This time was no different.
Sam’s turning around now, opening his mouth to ask him if he wants to talk to Steve. Oh, he wants to alright. Wants to scream, cuss Steve out until he can’t breathe, or just punch his stupid face. His face is old now, Bucky thinks, wrinkled, worn from the years he spent with Peggy. But Bucky can’t bring himself to hurt Steve. His only weakness. He can’t stand here either, can’t look at him any longer without breaking down. So he runs, the tears rolling down his cheeks, disappearing into the trees as Sam watches on.
Old Steve, as the remaining Avengers now call him, has taken up residence in Sam’s house. Apparently he’s too rickety to live on his own, but Bucky thinks he should be stuck in some nursing home and left to rot. That’s what Steve did to him, after all. He left. Gave up. For the first time in his life, Bucky thinks, Steve stopped fighting. He lived his life, and now the people he left behind have to take care of him. Tony’s in the hospital, recovering, and Natasha… Natasha’s dead. Steve claims he tried to bring her back, tried to bargain, but Bucky doesn’t care. She’s not here now, so it doesn’t matter how hard he tried. Steve keeps trying to talk to him, but Bucky’s pretty good at not being found when he doesn’t want to be. Bucky hasn’t talked to anybody, actually, since he said goodbye to Steve. Since the end of the line. He nearly did, when he found Tony’s kid curled up in a corner, crying, but then Rhodey came to the rescue and Bucky faded back into the background.
He can’t breathe, can’t stand the memories attached to New York, so he leaves. T’Challa assured him that he would always have a place in Wakanda, and so he goes back to his hut. The goats are a good distraction, and the monotonous work of day-to-day life gives his hands a purpose. Shuri comes to visit once a week, and he goes into the village for supplies. While he’s back to talking, he’s graced only Shuri and T’Challa with a conversation. Words feel empty, and the hurt Bucky’s been pushing down is rising up again, with more force than ever.
Bucky talks to Sam for the first time since the battle. He’s hurting just like Bucky. They sit on the riverbank and talk, the sun beating down on their backs. Apparently Steve’s doing well, the serum keeping his brain from breaking down. Again, Bucky wants to scream, wants to throw something just to see it break, but he can’t. He has to hold it together for Sam. Sam notices though, years of working at the VA shattering Bucky’s fragile sanity. He ends up crying on Sam’s shoulder, letting his anger soak into the sleeve of Sam’s shirt. Talk to Steve, Sam says, he needs to know how much his actions fucked you up. He needs to know what he did, and he needs to hear it from you. Bucky sits on the edge of the lake, wishing it would suck him in.
Everywhere he looks, Bucky sees people being happy. People with families. Tony has Pepper, Morgan, and Peter. As if that wasn’t enough, apparently another kid decided to show up on his doorstep. Something about terrorists, garages, and potato guns. The one and only time Bucky decided to show up to a barbecue at the lake house, he ended up sobbing in the bathroom. Bruce had just mentioned something about sitting around a bonfire, and suddenly he remembers sitting with the Howlies, throwing burnt Spam at Dugan. He wonders if Steve even remembers the people he left behind. Sam said going down that rabbit hole wasn’t going to help anyone, but he has to know. Does Steve regret it? Does he ever miss him? Would he miss him if he-
Morgan brushes against his leg as she walks past, breaking him out of his thoughts. He excuses himself to the bathroom and slides down the wall, tears dampening the knees of his jeans.
Bucky stays away from barbecues after that.
T’Challa officially bans Old Steve from Wakanda. Not that there’s any other Steve, Bucky points out, but the distinction stays. He supposedly tried to fly in with Sam one day, but Shuri kicked him right back out. Bucky thinks it’s nice to have someone on his side for once. Would Shuri miss him if he died? Probably not. She has so many responsibilities, his absence would lighten her workload significantly. She only turned away Steve because he would get in the way. Sam, Bucky reminds himself, hold on for Sam. He lost Steve too, he doesn’t deserve to lose you.
Nat’s back. Tony’s kid apparently pulled some crazy shit and- it doesn’t matter. She’s back. Bucky’s brain hurts just thinking about the how, so he resolutely ignores Shuri’s ramblings. Ignores that Nat exists, actually, until she shows up on his doorstep one day. He doesn’t say anything about Steve, about what happened, but she knows. His heart aches at the thought of leaving her, but she has Clint. She always did, just like he had Steve. Somehow everything in his life circles back to that fact: Steve left. Nat understands. He doesn’t have to put his feelings into words. She just smiles and squeezes his hand before she leaves, her own silent goodbye.