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happy ☆ now

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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.

Chapter Text

Bucky’s hands shook as he stared at the paper on the sink. The first few teardrops hit the paper, fortunately missing the words. He clumsily folded it and stuffed it into an envelope, cursing himself for using a pen. He took a deep breath, wrote Sam on the outside of the envelope, and pulled out the other sheet of paper. This one was crumpled and tattered around the edges, with tear stains blurring the ink in multiple places. If he added a few more before he picked up the second envelope, that was nobody’s business but his own. Steve was scrawled in his best cursive. Bucky tucked it under the first one, setting them both on the counter. His hands were shaking too badly to undo his kimoyo beads, so he brought his wrist up to his mouth and undid the magnetic clasp, catching them before they hit the ground. Placing them on top of the letters, he steadied himself before sitting on the edge of the bathtub. He’d gone out to see the stars earlier. They stared down at him as he picked up the knife from the floor, bringing it to his flesh wrist.
Once he was finished he slumped down onto the floor, rolling onto his back. His head was swimming from the blood loss. Not the pain, though, he’d felt much worse. But the pain was going away now. That was the whole point. As he faded into unconsciousness, Bucky felt the tears running down his face, mixing with the blood staining the tiles.
“I’m sorry baby,” a shaky breath, “I love you.”
He closed his eyes and let go.

Sam knocks on the door to Barnes’ hut. He was moved to a larger one after the snap, and Sam’s just glad he had more than a curtain to protect his privacy now.
“Barnes?”
No response.
“Barnes? You all good in there?”
Still nothing. Anxiety spikes in Sam’s gut. Over the last few weeks, Barnes had become increasingly unresponsive. Sam was worried, but he didn’t really think Barnes was gonna do something stupid. Even so-
“Hey Barnes, I’m coming in. You better not be naked, man.” Sam counts to three before opening the door - unlocked, he notices - and steps into the kitchen. No Barnes in sight.
“Barnes? Where the hell are you, man?” Sam’s panicking now. The bathroom door is shut, and oh god please no, no no no no-
He opens the door and the world screeches to a halt. Barnes is on the floor, lying in a puddle of his own blood. His eyes are closed, but he’s breathing - oh thank god, he’s breathing - and Sam falls to his knees in the doorway. As soon as he calls Shuri and gets confirmation that the med team is on their way, he lets time blur together. People burst into the house and into the bathroom, checking Barnes’ pulse and bustling him out on a stretcher. Shuri slumps down beside him with a haunted look in her eyes. She’s too young for this, the older brother in Sam screams, she’s only 18. He looks over at her, pushing himself off the floor. Only then does he notice the two letters on the counter, perfectly untouched. Barnes’- no, Bucky’s kimoyo beads sit on top of the envelopes, mocking him for not getting there earlier. He pushes them into the sink, picking up the letters. The first one is addressed to him. Touching. He knows who the bottom one is addressed to, but he doesn’t want to look. If he does, it makes everything real. Shuri’s long-suffering sigh breaks the silence.
“It’s for him.” She looks utterly defeated. “They were two halves of the same whole, Sam, one can’t exist without the other.”
“Tell that to Steve,” Sam mutters, looking down at the perfect cursive on the second envelope. Steve. Apparently America’s golden boy was never informed that it’s not okay to leave your best friend with 50+ years of unprocessed trauma to go back in time and marry the girl you knew for what? Two years? Shuri jars him out of his thoughts with a hand on his shoulder, guiding him out the door to the waiting hoverjet.

Tony’s phone lights up with an incoming call from Sam. Weird. Peter shifts next to him, searching for the hand that had been carding through his hair.
“Sorry bud, this is important. Can you pause the movie for a second?” Peter groans as he reaches over for the remote, nearly falling off the couch. Tony picks up the call, kicking his feet up on the coffee table.
“Hey Tony” He can hear Sam’s voice shaking through the phone. Uh-oh. Peter feels him stiffen and glances over, concerned.
“Hey Wilson, what’s up?” Sam takes a deep breath.
“Tony we- we got a code blue.” Tony exhales as steadily as possible, slowly closing his eyes. When he reopens them, he can see Peter biting his lip. Shit. Now he’s gonna have to explain to his kid that one of his team members tried to off themselves. He has an idea of who it might’ve been, but he’s not sure. They’re all a little bit fucked up after losing half the universe and dying once or twice.
“Was it- you know-” Tony begins, cutting himself off. He shouldn’t assume, but since it’s Sam that’s calling-
“It was Barnes. He- it's bad Tony.” Sam sounds wrecked. Before he can respond, Peter finally gives in to his curiosity.
“Mr. Stark? What’s a code blue? Should I go grab my suit? Is everyone okay?” The poor kid is about to chew his entire lower jaw off, so Tony has mercy on him and tells Sam to hold on for a second. Running his free hand over his face, Tony takes a minute to regret all his life choices. This was not a conversation he thought he would be having today. Eh, he might as well just go with it. The kid did “die” for five years, after all.
“It’s our suicide code Pete, someone on the team decided they didn’t wanna be here anymore.” Peter’s eyes widen as he audibly sucks in a breath.
“Um, am I allowed to ask who it was? Just because like I’m technically an Avenger now so I kind of feel responsible and I just wanna make sure everyone’s oka-” Tony cuts him off with a hug.
“It’s gonna be okay Pete, everyone’s gonna be fine. I just need to listen to Sam for a second, okay?” The kid nods and Tony picks up his phone from the table.
“Sorry, go on”
“I’m with him in the hospital in Wakanda. Shuri said he’ll probably make it, but only thanks to his super healing. It’s touch-and-go, but I’m honestly more worried for when he wakes up.”
“Look, Wilson,” Tony pauses, “I know we aren’t all the best of friends but I- is it okay if I fly over for emotional support? I’ve been there before and I know what it’s like to wake up after thinking you were a goner.” Peter shoots him a concerned look, which he waves off.
“Sure. Look, Tony, he left a note. Two, actually. I haven't read mine yet, but there's one addressed to Steve. Something tells me Barnes didn’t want that note delivered to the Steve we have here.” Uh-oh. Tony clearly remembers both him and Sam signing a very legally binding government contract agreeing to stop fucking with time travel.
“Wilson, what are you getting at?”
“I might have to make a little trip, so can you dig out the platform and a suit?” Well, this isn’t Tony’s first time breaking the law in the name of vengeance. He has Rhodey to vouch for him, he’ll live.
“Fine. Can I bring Peter with me to Wakanda?” He hears Peter murmur something along the lines of “we’re going to Wakanda?”
“Sure. I’ll tell Shuri to let you in”
“Okay, I’ll see you in a couple hours then.” Tony pulls out the reassuring Dad voice, “This is gonna turn out just fine, okay Wilson?” Sam sighs again.
“Yeah. See you then.”
“Bye.” The phone beeps as Sam hangs up. Tony turns slowly towards Peter, who is looking at him nervously.
“Welp kiddo, grab your go bag. We’re goin’ to Wakanda.” Peter fidgets with his hands for a minute.
“Mr. Stark?” Tony rolls his eyes at him.
“Tony.”
“Mr- Tony, who was it?”
“Barnes.” Please don’t mention Steve, please don’t mention-
“Was it because of-” Tony hastily cuts him off.
“I don’t think that’s any of our business Pete. Now, go grab your backpack, I’m sure Shuri will appreciate some company right now.”

Sam puts his phone on the chair beside him and rests his head in his hands. When he woke up this morning he did not think he would be calling Tony fucking Stark because one of his best friends just attempted suidice. The letters are burning a hole in his pocket. He looks up at Bucky’s face. He looks almost peaceful. Sam debates reading his letter now, but decides it would feel, just, wrong to read it in the same room as Bucky. He stands slowly, his stiff joints protesting, and heads out into the hallway. There are chairs in the makeshift waiting room, but he’d rather not cry in front of the secretary, so he grabs a chair from Bucky’s room and sets it in the hallway. After staring at the floor for a few minutes, he pulls his letter from his pocket and counts to three before opening it. Sam carefully unfolds the paper inside, smoothing it over his leg, and begins to read.

Hey Sam,
I feel like I owe you an explanation. First, I want you to know that none of this is your fault. You couldn’t have known. I have master assassin training, remember? Second, if you found me, I’m so sorry. I just couldn’t stay here anymore, Sam, you got to understand. It’s just not the same without him. From the time we were 8 years old, we weren’t Steve and Bucky, we were SteveandBucky. He was the only reason I got out of bed some days. Most days. I don’t think either of us ever told you, but we were together. Before the war. Then he met Peggy, and suddenly I didn’t exist. We both knew what we had couldn’t last, but it still hurt. I loved him so, so much, and I still do. He’s made his feelings clear, though, and although I respect them, I can’t live in a world without him. As for his letter, could you please do your best to get it to him? Not the old him, but our Steve. If he’s going to live the rest of his life with Peggy, he deserves to live it knowing the consequences of his actions. Feel free to punch him while you’re there. One slug for me, one for you. You’re gonna be just fine. I love you and I wish you all the best for the rest of your life. Go find someone who makes you happy, okay? You deserve it.
Bucky

Sam tries not to cry on the letter, he really does, but it gets a little soggy anyway. He had no idea that the idiots were together, at least like that. It was like finally finding the missing piece to a puzzle he’d been trying to solve for years. It also made Steve’s decision to stay behind sting even worse. The guy had to have known that Bucky still loved him. He looks up from his lap as loud footsteps turn the corner. Tony. Peter follows behind him, looking somewhat like a lost puppy. Sam wipes his eyes with the back of his hand and looks up at them.
“I was right.” Tony cocks his head, confused.
“About?” Sam shakes his head.
“Everything.”
“Hm?”
“He did it because Steve left.” Tony makes a face.
“Didn’t we already establish this?” Sam shoots him a halfhearted glare.
“I was also right about who the other letter was for.” This catches Peter’s attention, snapping him away from the Wakandan tech he was ogling.
“Huh? Who?” Sam waves Steve’s letter in their direction, making sure the name is visible.
“He didn’t mean the Steve here though, he meant the Steve that went back to be with Peggy.” Peter’s face scrunches.
“Won’t that mess up the timeline though?” Tony winds an arm around Peter’s shoulder, squeezing it gently.
“How about we just let Barnes have this one, huh kiddo?”