is this angst? oof
Bucky is the last person Tony would want to see.
When the Benatar enters Earth’s atmosphere, glowing like a beacon thanks to Captain Marvel (don’t think that word, Bucky, don’t think that title, don’t think about him), the others race to meet the ship. They are friends to Tony, teammates of him. Bucky is none of those things. He remains behind, slipping into the shadow until it slips into him, until he doesn’t know where he ends and it begins.
He’s probably dead, Bucky thinks in the same dull, muted way he’s thought of everything since he watched Steve disintegrate and drift away on the wind. Danvers might just be bringing home an empty shell of a ship, a coffin. But the ramp lowers and out stumble two humanoid figures, and one of them is Tony Stark. Thin and weak and unshaven, trembling all over while he embraces Pepper. Bucky recognizes the gaunt, haunted look. He sees it in the mirror.
The others help the fragile man walk right by Bucky’s hiding place and still Bucky thinks, maybe he’s dead.
The first time they cross paths in the compound, Tony’s face twists with a fury that makes Bucky feel cold, Siberian wind biting at his face. He’s even thinner up close, wearing a robe that exposes the delicate bones of his chest broken up only by the unit that houses his suit. Bucky overheard Pepper saying that he wears it always, now. Even to sleep. Just two dead men, Bucky’s brain says. You and I.
“It should have been you,” Tony says through his teeth.
Like Bucky isn’t already thinking it.
The next time, Bucky nearly avoids the man’s notice. It is late, so late that some might quantify it as early. Bucky had spent hours walking around a city in chaos, society falling apart around him, feeling just as detached from it as he had when he first stepped back into New York free of triggers and with a new metal arm. This isn’t home. But it wasn’t home before.
Creeping back into the compound, he makes out Tony’s figure in the dark, slumped over a table with his head in his thin hands. Bucky is almost sure that the glasses the man wears are more than just glasses; completely silent, there is no tell that gives away Bucky’s presence, but still, the man looks up.
Tony’s been drinking. Bucky can smell it from across the room. It can’t be healthy, but Bucky’s no fucking judge of well-being.
“I’m sorry,” says Tony. He doesn’t slur, but his voice is thick. “About what I said. I didn’t mean that.”
“It’s okay,” says Bucky. His voice is rough. He can’t remember the last time he spoke. “It’s okay that you meant it.”
Tony swallows thickly, the sound loud in the silence of the room. The near darkness must cast Bucky in shadows, but with enhanced vision, Bucky can make out the shaking hands, the empty glass, the full expressive mouth that can’t stop trembling. There’s a photograph on the table, framed, and while he recognizes Tony, there’s another much younger figure that is a stranger to him.
“I only said it,” Tony admits, “Because it should have been me, too.”
Bucky feels his own grief well up inside him, fracturing the numb fog he’s been living in. His pain sees a mirror, sees a twin in Tony, and it makes Bucky aware of its own existence: the ball of fury and horror inside his chest, the stinging of his eyes and throat.
“But it wasn’t,” Bucky says. He takes cautious steps to where Tony sits, shoulders shaking with silent tears. Pulling out the seat beside him at the table, Bucky sits down. “It wasn’t either of us. We’re still here, and we’ve got to, got to somehow—”
“Move on?” Tony says, disgusted.
“I don’t know nothing about moving on.”
Tony leans back in his chair, using one palm to wipe at his wet eyes. The look he gives Bucky is shrewd and assessing, surprised and curious. Bucky feels seen. “What do you know about?” Tony wonders.
“Revenge,” Bucky mutters.
Tony says the word back, quiet. They sit there quiet even while the sun comes up, wearing twin expressions of exhaustion—and maybe purpose.
We’re alive, Bucky thinks, heart swelling with hope even as he dreads the thought of it, of what it means. We’re alive.