GODDAMN IT BUCKY BARNES I’M TRYING TO GET OTHER SHIT DONE, MUST YOU SIDLE IN AND BRAIN ME WITH FEELS, HAVE SOME COURTESY
But augh augh augh, like—and part of this is just down to the acting of The Stan, WELL DONE SEBASTIAN, WELL DONE—but look at the difference in the set of Bucky’s shoulders in the first gif and the second one. In the first gif, uniformed and exasperated, rescuing Steve from a fight (and from himself, stubborn little shit, so determined that he can do this all day even though he obviously, obviously can’t), he walks with his shoulders thrown back. He’s not a big fish in a small pond, exactly, but he’s certainly a self-possessed fish in a pond that doesn’t hold much to fighten him anymore; Bucky as he is in the first gif has more fear for Steve’s safety than he does for his own. He carries himself like someone who is well aware he can hold his own in a fight, who can run off a bully with one solid (and clearly pulled) punch—he carries himself with the confidence we see later in the film, when he spirits off his date and Steve’s for a night of dancing, when he warns Steve to keep safe when he himself is shipping off to war.
But Bucky in the second gif….well, Bucky in the second gif is a different guy. He’s seen battle, lost men, been captured, been tortured; he’s seen his scrawny, fragile best friend transformed into an honest-to-god superhero; he’s been running all over war-torn Europe destroying military bases owned and operated by those self-same torturers. And now here’s this moment, where “Oh god, Rogers, I’m you,” is suddenly so much more than just a joke that’s a little too pointed—in this moment, Bucky, whose whole identity in this friendship has been wrapped up in being the protector for as long as he can remember, is the one who needs Steve’s backup. And you can see it, the bitter little twist to his mouth, the resigned curve to his shoulders, the way he steps forward just a little as if to say “I could come get you now, if I wanted to, if it was necessary,” as if to underscore that “I had him on the ropes,” with pointless, unnecessary intent.
And there’s Steve saying, “I know you did,” because he knows that’s what he’d have wanted to hear, knows it because Bucky said it to him so many times, the kindest and most obvious lie imaginable.
It breaks my heart, ugh, it just breaks my fucking heart, because he falls right after this and every time I think of this pairing I find myself thinking about In Our Bedroom After The War, not even the tune of the song, necessarily, just the lyrics, even just that title line. Because that’s what Bucky doesn’t get to have, what Steve and Bucky don’t get to have—because churning under the adrenaline and horror and fear of what they’re doing, what they have to do, under the immediate right-now rush, there’s this whole tangled mess of pride and history between them. Because Bucky really is following that kid from Brooklyn who didn’t know when to back down from a fight, and because Steve is never, ever going to trust anyone else to have his back the way that Bucky does, and I want them to get to have their bedroom after the fucking war! I want them to get to go home, or to get to build a home somewhere, and I want Bucky to snap and scream selfish, horrible things about how Steve’s bigger now and he doesn’t know how to parse it, and I want Steve to break and confess that he did have something to prove, to himself but to Bucky too. I want them to get to be complicated and messy and whole, instead of complicated and messy and tragically, impossibly fucked up, both of them in and out of time, both of them with yawning gaps in what they’ve got to hold onto and Bucky with brainwashing to boot. I WANT IT SO MUCH.
Tl;dr: Bucky Barnes, you are a fucking heartbreaker.