Antarctica-or-bust (rata_toskr) wrote,

can't play on broken strings - part 3

Title: Can't Play on Broken Strings (or Bucky Barnes and the No Good, Truly Awful, Really Sucky Days)
Fandoms: Captain America Civil War
Pairing: Steve/Bucky
Rating/Warnings: Hard R, So much angst
Word Count: about 30k so far
Disclaimer: If I owned this, Bucky would get the hug he sorely needs.
Summary: James Buchanan Barnes is so done with this shit.

Part I
Part II

You roll onto your side with a low groan and see Steve down below you, the blond clearly struggling as he stumbles to his feet.

“This isn't gonna change what happened,” your captain says, still hoping to make Iron Man back down.

“I don't care,” Stark replies. “He killed my mom.”

He doesn't say “my father” or “my parents.” He only says “my mom” and you wonder at his choice of words even as he charges Steve again. The two of them trade punches back and forth, neither holding back. Every strike is quick and brutal, Steve fighting without limits, but the blond is losing ground. Soon Stark manages to pin him, a rain of blows landing on your captain's head.

You need to help him and your eye catches on a flash of red as you look around. So you force yourself to your feet, gritting your teeth against the pain. Then you grab Steve's shield up off the ground and leap into the fray, slamming down the metal on Stark's back.

You continue this onslaught until Steve regains his feet. After that, you don't need words to plan your strategy. You and your captain fall into a rhythm as easily as breathing, throwing the shield back and forth as you trade off blows with Iron Man.

You move as one and for a moment it feels perfect. But then Stark's blaster hits Steve in the stomach, throwing him back hard into the wall. You hear the blond groan in pain as he struggles to stand again and your vision just goes red. You barely feel the next few punches as you attack Stark solo, forcing his next shot away and then slamming him into the wall with a scream of rage. Stark trying to kill you is understandable; he’s angry and traumatized and it’s not like you haven’t thought of swallowing a bullet more than once. But no one hurts Steve Rogers and gets away with it.

So you grind Stark's head against the concrete, holding him there with your right arm as you dig metal fingers deep into his chest. Your whole body protests but you just grit your teeth and shove even as he struggles, trying to rip out his power source and end this fight for good.

You think you almost have it as you dig your fingers deeper but then his chest lights up beneath your hand. There's a sudden blast of energy and you're thrown backwards to your knees. You try to rise but you can't seem to find your balance and when you look down, your metal arm is gone. Sliced off right below the shoulder, torn wires glowing hot. For a moment you just stare, numb with shock and complete incomprehension until another blast hits you from behind.

You land on the floor in a haze of agony, your vision going blurry as Steve charges Stark again. He blocks the other man's blasts with his shield until he can get in close and messy. Because your fellow is done talking. He drives Iron Man back against the wall, shield and fists doing their best to ruin him.

You think that Steve is winning as your sight fades in and out. Stark seems to fall beneath his onslaught and you struggle to hold on to consciousness. But then the pattern changes. The sound of fists on metal suddenly falls away, replaced by the sound of Steve in pain.

When you force your eyes back open, your captain is on his knees right next to you. He doesn't have his shield and you can see red dripping down his face.

“He's my friend,” Steve says, one last attempt at reasoning.

“So was I,” Iron Man replies and if you had the breath, you'd laugh hysterically. Friends don't punch each other the way that Stark is punching Steve. He tosses your fellow toward the outside wall and even in your stupor, you're afraid that he'll fall right through the openings. Thankfully he doesn’t, but he also doesn’t stay down when Stark tells him to.

Of course, the fact that Iron Man even asked means that he never truly knew the blond the way he thinks he did. Your fellow has never given up when a fight was truly hopeless and he’ll never let Stark kill you the way that he wants to. Instead Steve will die to save you and that you can’t allow. So you roll onto your side, fighting through the pain that moving brings.

“I could do this all day,” your captain says, holding up his fists. He's keeping Stark distracted, the other man ignoring you completely as he starts to charge his beam again.

Before Stark can fire, you reach out and grab his ankle with your one remaining hand. He whirls on you instantly, his booted foot smashing straight into your face and you fall back with a cry. But this opening is all your captain needed.

He grabs hold of Stark, lifting the other man high above his head and throwing him to the ground. Then Steve leaps on top of him, his punches fast and vicious until he manages to rip his helmet off. Stark throws his hands over his face as your captain grabs his shield up off the ground and raises it for the final blow. He's clearly afraid that Steve will kill him. But you know better than that. Stark should know better than that if they were truly friends at all.

Your fellow could decapitate his former ally but instead he slams his shield into Stark's power source. You hear a crack as the shield wedges deep into his armor and from the corner of your eye, you see Iron Man's suit start to flicker and die out.

You can hear Steve breathing hard as he sits back and stares at Stark for a long moment. Then he stands up and pulls his shield free of the wreckage before walking to your side. You let him life to your feet even though it hurts like hell, the blond supporting most of your weight as he turns to leave.

“That shield doesn't belong to you,” Stark calls out behind you. “You don't deserve it! My father made that shield!”

You feel Steve flinch at the words and if you could actually stand upright, you would have marched right back to Tony Stark and kicked him in the face. That shield belongs more to your captain than it ever did to Howard and for all the guilt you feel about his murder, his son has no damn right. Trying to kill you is one thing; trying to hurt Steve now that the fight is over is simple cruelty.

However, it’s taking all of your energy to keep from passing out and the blond probably wouldn’t want you to kick Stark anyway. As much as your fellow stands up for other people, he’s always been reluctant to protect his own damn self.

So you're not surprised when Steve doesn’t say anything to answer Stark’s accusation. He simply drops his shield to the floor with a dull clang before settling your weight against his side more comfortably. Then you stagger off toward the door together and your captain doesn’t look back as you leave your past behind. He’ll always be your captain whether he has that shield or not.

“Are you sure about this?” you ask when you finally reach the elevator. You don’t want Steve to regret giving up the shield and all it stands for for a broken man like you.

“Yeah, Buck. I’m sure,” he replies without a moment’s hesitation. “I hope Tony will forgive me someday; I hope he’ll come to understand. But the Avengers have always had their problems and I think we were losing sight of the things that truly mattered. So really, pal, don’t worry. I might miss my shield but I don’t need it and I can’t say that I mind the idea of retiring as Captain America for now. Plain old Steve Rogers sounds mighty nice to me.”

“There’s nothing plain about Steve Rogers,” you reply with a faint grin before the elevator stops at the top floor.

When you reach the outside doors, a blast of cold air hits you and you can’t keep from coughing, the next few minutes dissolving into a haze of pain. Breathing is an agony and the stump of your metal arm screams with every motion, tortured circuits sending signals crosswise through your brain.

“Sorry,” you gasp out once you finally have the air. You pry your eyes back open, not sure when you closed them, and find yourself leaning into Steve. His arms are the only thing that’s keeping you from falling and his face is twisted with concern. “I’m okay.”

“No you’re not,” he murmurs, guilt flashing over his expression. “I’m sorry that I dragged you into this. If not for the Avengers, Zemo would have let you hide in peace.”

“Hey, now, this mess is not your fault,” you tell him fiercely. “You don’t get to take the blame.”

“Your friend is right, Captain.”

The voice comes from behind you and you hold Steve tightly as he spins you both around. Your fingers itch for a weapon when you see Catman standing above the entrance and you’re not sure why he didn’t spring his ambush when he had the perfect chance. In truth, it takes longer than it should for your brain to catch up with what your eyes are seeing: the man’s hands held out in friendship and his mask left off his face.

“What do you want?” Steve asks suspiciously, not willing to bargain with your safety. He turns his body slightly, blocking you from Catman’s view in case this is a trick. “I’m still not gonna let you get to Bucky.”

“And you are right to protect him,” the man answers as you gape at him in shock.

“Are you serious?”

“Yes. I allowed my grief over my father’s death to blind me to the truth,” Catman says before giving you a bow. “I know that saying sorry cannot make up for my actions, but I wish to offer my sincere apologies.”

“Uh, thanks, I guess,” you mutter, not sure what else to say. No one has ever changed their mind about killing you before.

“Yeah, thanks. Glad you got that off your chest and everything, but we kind of need to leave,” Steve says and you can hear the eye roll in his voice. That’s your Steve – snarky, sarcastic, and refusing to put up with any bullshit – and if your arm didn’t hurt so much, you’d probably start laughing at the surprise on Catman’s face. History really did your fellow a disservice; they turned your firecracker into someone bland and boring, spent so much time on Captain America that people forgot Steve. But he’s always been the man underneath that stupid costume and you have a feeling that this king won’t be the only person he surprises now that he’s set his shield aside.

A particularly sharp pain sends you fading for a moment, your vision graying out. You curl into Steve a little, trying to stay upright and when your ears stop ringing, you hear Catman ask, “Where do you plan to go?”

That’s actually a damn good question. You don’t have another bolt hole and you’re in no shape to keep on running. Maybe Steve has an idea, but you’re afraid he burned his allies just to get you both this far.

“Fuck if I know. Somewhere warm,” you croak before the freezing air sends you into another coughing fit. You can’t seem to stop shivering; you’re pretty sure your injuries have overwhelmed your knockoff serum and if you stand out here much longer, you’re gonna go straight into shock.

“Perhaps I can offer my assistance,” Catman says and you’d swear he actually looked worried if that wasn’t so insane. “Wakanda is both warm and well-protected and I would be honored to give you sanctuary until you decide what you should do. You would be quite safe there; you have my word as king.”

You can’t trust the offer. You can’t trust he won’t hurt Steve. But you’re running short on options and you don’t have the strength to argue when your fellow takes the deal.

“Your word will have to do,” Steve says. He sounds almost as tired as you feel. “We accept your hospitality and we won’t impose for very long. We just need a few days to regroup.”

“You are welcome for as long as you require,” the other man replies. “Now come, we should get your friend out of the cold.”

“Do you have a plane?” Steve asks as Catman leaps down next to you. “Tony probably has a tracker in the Quinjet and even if he doesn’t, I’d like to leave it for him if we can. We left him pretty battered and he’ll need the help to get back home.”

“Yes, I have a plane,” your new ally says with a faint smile and you understand his amusement when he leads you around the far side of Hydra’s bunker. Because the craft that’s waiting for you makes the Avenger’s Quinjet look like a paper airplane or some child’s windup toy. Everything about the plane screams sophistication, from the sleek lines of its wings to the stone-faced women standing guard outside.

They should look ridiculous since they’re holding spears and wearing vibrant armor, but instead they just look dangerous and you’re glad that Catman decided to switch sides. Sure you and Steve might be able to take him and his warriors on a good day, but this has been a very bad day and you honestly aren’t sure who would win that fight right now.

The king says something to his guards; you don’t understand the language, which is rare for you these days. But you’d guess it was some kind of explanation because the one in front stops glaring quite so hard.

Instead she turns to you and gives a shallow bow, “Guests of Wakanda, please be welcome.”

The woman waves her hand and the airplane hatch slides open. You’re more than ready to go inside – too exhausted for suspicion – but you feel Steve hesitate.

“The Dora Milaje will not hurt you,” Catman says. “I gave my word of honor.”

“I'm not doubting that,” your fellow tells him. “It’s just… what about her?”

He points toward another woman who had slipped your notice until now. This one is standing near a smaller plane that looks a lot more normal; you think that you’ve seen fighter jets before.

“Aah, yes. I understand your concern but it is not necessary. She has agreed to see that Stark is safe before she flies back to Wakanda,” Catman replies. “Although he has made mistakes, I do not intend to leave him here to die.”

“Thank you, your majesty,” Steve says, some of the tension leaking from his body.

“Please, call me T’Challa,” the king offers. “Now, please. We should go inside before your friend there passes out.”

“Right, of course,” your fellow tells him before looking down at you apologetically. “Sorry, Buck. I just had to make sure. Can you walk for me? It’s just a little farther.”

“Mm not’n invalid,” you mutter, though it takes you a couple tries to straighten up again. Steve is still supporting most of your weight as you trudge into the airplane and Catman follows after – though, of course, now that you actually know his name, you probably shouldn’t call him Catman anymore.

It’s blessedly warm inside the plane, particularly when the hatch slides shut behind you, and the interior is comfortably appointed. Honestly, the décor looks more like a swank hotel than a military airplane, but you suppose that’s what you get when you travel with a king. Of course, this plane could have been decorated like an old time speak-easy and you would not give a damn.

“We will treat your wounds if you allow it,” one of the women says, pointing toward the back of the plane. She doesn't offer you painkillers – perhaps realizing that neither of you would take them, not surrounded here by strangers that you only partially trust.

Honestly, even the thought of someone else putting on your bandages makes you feel jittery and you're relieved when Steve just shakes his head. “There's no need for that. I know we look bad but we'll heal quickly once we get some food and rest. Unless you can do something for Buck's arm?”

“I am sure we can. Wakandan scientists are the best in the whole world,” T'Challa tells him with clear pride. Maybe they are – you hope they are – but the arm is one thing. What are the odds they're good enough to fix this broken brain of mine? “But unfortunately that must wait until we reach my country and the journey will take time. For now, please make yourselves as comfortable as you can.”

Steve helps you stumble over to a seat – some kind of long low couch that probably has a special name – and you sink into the cushions with a deep groan of relief. No one objects even though you know you’re filthy; the king can probably afford to replace his furniture and it's a little hard to change your clothes right now. The way your arm is sparking, you don't even want to try. Now Steve, he could change, and you know he'd probably like to. But when he starts to let go, you can't help but grab on tighter, pulling the blond down next to you.

“I’ve got to talk to T’Challa,” he says gently. “And you need to get some sleep.”

“You c’n talk from here,” you tell him, holding onto his hand stubbornly. “Won’t rest witho’t you anyway.”

“All right, Bucky,” Steve gives in. He doesn’t seem to mind much going by that smile; it’s fond enough to warm you head to toe.

So you curl up on the couch and arrange your fellow to your liking before laying your head down in his lap. You give a sigh of pleasure when Steve curls his fingers in your hair, paying no attention to your watching audience. You said you weren’t hiding and you meant it, though you hear T’Challa ask, “You and Barnes then? No one told me.”

“No one knew,” Steve answers quietly. “We had to hide it in the old days and after he came back, I wasn’t sure that he remembered so I never mentioned it. I know it’s not illegal now but I didn’t need the pity, not when I would have fought to save him either way. That won't be a problem, will it? I promised Buck he wouldn't be a secret anymore.”

“You will not need to worry about such things in Wakanda. Our laws protect all people equally,” the king is quick to reassure him. “And I will see that you are given private rooms once we arrive. I would let you use mine now, but I am afraid it’s occupied. This plane was not built to carry guests and we are at capacity.”

“Yeah? You been collecting other strays?” your fellow says distractedly as you curl a little closer, wrapping your good arm around his waist.

“I suppose you could say that,” T’Challa replies. “I found my father’s murderer sitting in the snow.”

“You mean Zemo?” Steve asks and his leg tenses slightly underneath your head. “You caught him?”

“Yes. At first I planned to kill him, but he already wished to die,” the other man explains. “And I had allowed my need for vengeance to consume me for too long. I mean to stop in Berlin and give him to the UN on our way to Wakanda. Unless you have an objection? Zemo wronged you both as well.”

“No. I’m not an executioner,” Steve says firmly and you feel no need to protest. “Let the UN have him. If Zemo gives them a confession, maybe that will help clear Bucky’s name. I’m pretty sure I’m on their shit list for the next few centuries, but running would be easier if they lightened up a bit.”

“I wouldn’t count on that,” T’Challa warns him. “I have talked to the man in charge of enforcing the Sokovia Accords and he does not seem the type to bend. I believe he wants all so-called superhumans underneath his thumb.”

“Yeah, I got that same impression,” the blond says with a sigh. “Speaking of which, maybe you can help me. Do you know where my friends were taken after me and Bucky flew off in the Quinjet? I won’t leave them in Ross’ clutches if I have another choice.”

“Most of your allies were taken into custody, though the Black Widow disappeared before she could be captured. I do not know where they are being held but I will endeavor to find out,” you hear T'Challa promise before exhaustion drags you down. There’s no way that you can really sleep around this many strangers but you trust Steve more than anyone – more than you trust yourself – and with him keeping watch, you manage a light doze.

“Hey, Buck. Wake up.”

Your fellow nudges your shoulder and you grumble in reply. With anyone else, you would have startled upright, but you recognize the blond enough not to clock him in the face. No one else has ever touched you quite so gently or said your name that way.

“Come on, Bucky. I know you're tired but T'Challa needs us out of sight. We're coming in to Germany and we don't want the UN to realize that we're here.”

That wakes you up and you clamber to your feet with Steve’s assistance, still a bit off balance without your metal arm. The other man looks like he didn’t sleep at all while you were dozing and you make a metal note to fix that as soon as possible. You feel better for the nap – still in pain but not as fuzzy from exhaustion – and you’re more than willing to take a turn at watch for him.

“Good, you’re awake,” T’Challa says, coming up behind you. He’s traded out the cat-suit for more regal garments, looking every inch the king. “The Dora Milaje will keep anyone from entering the plane without permission, but I’d like you away from the hatch just in case. My room will be empty once I remove my prisoner so please make yourselves at home; you are welcome to take a shower and get a change of clothes as well.”

Then the king signals to his guards. You turn to look when you hear Steve breathe in sharply and you find yourself face-to-face with Zemo once again. The other man seems far more haunted than triumphant, though his eyes brighten slightly when he catches sight of you.

“So you survived then,” Zemo says. “It was nothing personal, Sergeant Barnes. I hope you know that. You were nothing but a tool.”

“Story of my life,” you reply, feeling your lips twist bitterly. You should probably hate this man for the way he used you, stealing away your choices and painting your hands with blood again. But you mostly just feel empty. There are always people trying to use the Winter Soldier and if Zemo hadn’t found your triggers, someone else would have tracked you down eventually. You’ll always be a ticking time bomb as long as Hydra’s programming is still buried in your brain.

“Was it worth it?” you ask Zemo. “Was your vengeance worth the pain?”

“Yes,” he answers with a fanatic’s certainty and you don’t try to argue as the Dora Milaje march the man away. Instead you glance at Steve and you can tell the fool is feeling guilty yet again.

“Still not your fault,” you tell him.

“Come on, I could use a shower,” he deflects and you let the subject drop for now. You could push the issue, but you’d rather have that conversation without an audience.

One of the remaining guards shows you to T’Challa’s room and even though it’s fairly compact, you can almost taste the luxury. His chest of drawers alone probably cost more than the docks paid in a whole year.

“The bathroom is through there,” the woman says, pointing at a door in the far wall. “Please let us know if you need anything.”

As soon as she leaves, you head over to T’Challa’s dresser and start digging through his clothes. It’s a little awkward with one hand and the styles are unfamiliar, but the king is fairly tall and you think you can make do.

Bucky, what are you doing?” Steve hisses as you toss a shirt and pants onto the bed.

“What does it look like?” you reply, fighting the urge to roll your eyes. Your fellow sounds mortified but T’Challa told you to make yourself at home and even if he hadn’t, you’d never let a bit of rudeness stop you from taking care of Steve. “You said you wanted a shower and I’m not letting you put those clothes back on. You won’t get any sleep like that.”

“I don’t need to sleep,” the other man protests.

“Don’t be an idiot. You’re swaying on your feet,” you tell him. “You’ve been running yourself ragged since this whole mess started and you’re going to collapse if you aren’t careful. I’d rather you lie down before you fall down; I can’t promise that I’ll catch you with just one working arm.”

That silences Steve’s objections the way you hoped it would. Sure mentioning the arm is kind of cheating, but you know your fellow will work himself down to the bone if you allow it and he’s less likely to try to get out of resting if he thinks he’s doing it for you.

Although, of course, the blond still has to ask, “What about you? I know you didn’t get much sleep out there. Why don’t you shower first?”

“You really think this thing is waterproof?” you reply, raising one eyebrow as you gesture at the stump of your left arm. Steve is definitely overtired if he didn’t think of that. “Go take your shower, punk. You can help me pry these clothes off afterward.”

You let your smile turn a little lecherous, delighting in the heated flush that climbs up your fella's neck. You love the fact that Steve still blushes despite all you've done together. He's always been better with actions than with words; from what you remember, he was damn adventurous in bed and there are a few memories you intend to reenact as soon as possible.

But not right now. Right now Steve needs to rest and thankfully the other man stops arguing. He takes his change of clothes and heads into the bathroom while you keep guard outside. Although you don't think that T'Challa is planning to betray you, better safe than sorry and there's always the chance that something will go wrong with the UN.

So you listen by the door, trying not to think too hard about Steve in the shower. You can hear some of the Dora Milaje speaking in their own language but everything seems quiet otherwise until someone knocks on the bedroom door.

“Yeah? Who is it?”

“T'Challa,” the man replies. “I wanted to tell you that Zemo has been delivered and we will be leaving soon.”

You open the door cautiously and find the king standing on the other side. One of his guards is with him but his clothes still look pristine; if he got into a fight while he was gone, it isn't obvious.

“No trouble then?” you ask. “I expected that to take much longer.”

“I called ahead,” he tells you with a smile. “The other Ross, Everett, met us near the airport to collect my prisoner. The man had some questions or I would have been back sooner – he's less of a fool than many of his colleagues – but I managed to deflect his curiosity.”

“I'm sure you did,” you mutter. You imagine this man is used to being underestimated for the color of his skin. “You want your room back? Steve is in the shower but it shouldn't be much longer.”

“No, I do not wish to disturb you,” T'Challa answers. “I have work to do and I know that you're both tired after your ordeal. You might as well use the bed; the flight back to Wakanda will take about eight hours and I will not be needing it.”

“Thank you. We really are grateful for the help. But... I have to wonder why. Why are you doing this?” you ask, unable to hold back the question anymore. “Even if I didn't kill your father, you know that we're both criminals. If anyone discovers that you helped us, you'll be in a world of hurt. I wouldn't want Wakanda to get in trouble over this.”

“And that is why I offered. You are a good man, Mister Barnes, as is your captain. Once I looked past my grief and anger, that much was obvious,” the other man tells you. “And I have my own reservations about what Ross has done.”

You're not sure that you believe him. No one could read about your past and think you're a good person – except for Steve, of course. But the fella loves you and that makes him stupid about this kind of thing. Still, T'Challa seems to mean it and you're not dumb enough to look this gift horse in the mouth too closely.

“Well, thanks again,” you tell him. “I guess we'll see you later on.”

“We can talk more in Wakanda if you wish,” he says. “But I am sure your captain will be done soon and I should leave you to your rest.”

The other man is right. You hear the shower stop a moment later and so you tell the king good night. Although you're still rather curious about T'Challa's country – and what the hell this man is thinking – Steve will always be your first priority.

“Feeling better?” you ask as your fellow walks out of the bathroom. Steve is drying off his hair, his borrowed clothes clinging in all of the right places, and you take a moment to appreciate the view. But his smile is still the sweetest thing when he looks up at you.

“I needed that. Thanks, Bucky,” the other man replies as he hangs up his towel. “Now come on, let's get you out of those. I know you can't get your arm wet but maybe you can wash your feet at least. T'Challa has one of those fancy shower heads that you can move around.”

Steve is gentle as he undoes your uniform, some of the buckles sticking from crusted dirt and sweat. He keeps up a running commentary the whole time – asking if you remember your awful shower back in Brooklyn, never more than lukewarm and the water just a trickle –trying to distract you from the pain like you always used to do. You think you had that patter down to a fine art after years of cleaning up Steve's bloody noses and the other man isn't too bad at it himself. However, you still grit your teeth as he drags your Tac vest off your shoulder, unable to completely hide a wince.

“You all right?” the blond asks, pausing worriedly.

“Just get it over with,” you order and your fella nods. Steve tosses the vest aside before starting on your shirt, but he stalls when trying to figure out how to pull it over your head. Eventually the other man just shrugs and rips your shirt in half; which would have been damn hot if you'd been feeling better. Your arm isn't hurting near as bad now – given enough time, you can get used to anything – but jostling the stump sends a stab of pain down your whole side. So you lean against Steve for a moment, breathing in your fellow's scent as you wait for the ache to fade. You could stay like this forever, just fall asleep right here. But the thought of being clean is damn good motivation and eventually you straighten up again.

“You'll have to help me with my boots,” you mutter. “I don't think I can bend that far right now.”

You sit on the edge of the bed as Steve undoes your laces. You know you must smell terrible by this point but the other man doesn't even flinch. He just sets each boot aside and then grins at you dopily.


“I'm just glad to be here,” your fellow says. “Do you remember? I used to do this in the war when you were so exhausted that you would have gone to sleep still fully dressed. After you fell, I never thought... I didn't think I'd get the chance to take care of you again.”

“As long as you let me do the same,” you answer as you lean in to steal a kiss. Your eyes flutter shut as one kiss turns to two and you separate from him reluctantly, tracing your fingers down his jaw. Steve chases your lips with his but you nudge him backwards until you have the space to stand.

“Sorry, pal, I gotta change,” you tell him. You unzip your pants one-handed and walk toward toward the bathroom, giving a little shimmy as you tug your trousers off.

“I can feel you staring, Stevie. You looking at my ass?”

“Well, it is a nice one,” he replies. You glance back and you're not surprised to see him flushing, but he sounds more smug than sorry when he asks, “Can you blame me?”

“Hey, I'm not complaining,” you tell him with an exaggerated wink. “But seriously, Steve. I'm gonna go clean up. You lie down before you fall flat on your face.”

With a bit of work you manage to take a partial shower and the other man really wasn't kidding about the water pressure. You're honestly not sure you've ever been in a bathroom quite this nice. If you have, you don't remember and this sure beats Hydra's fondness for ice-cold fire hoses; you don't miss those things at all.

By the time you finish, Steve is sacked out on the bed just like you hoped he'd be. The other man didn't even bother to get under the covers and you can't help but shake your head as you tuck your fellow in. You've done this before, you're almost certain – there's a sense of familiarity to the motions even though you can't quite place the memory. You're pretty sure that Steve was smaller then but apparently even Erskine's serum couldn't make your best friend sensible. The dumb punk still needs you looking after him.

So you sit down next to Steve, stretching out your legs as you lean back against the headboard. You don't mean to fall asleep, but the other man is just so warm and you find your eyes slipping closed despite your best intentions.

When you wake up, you're in Wakanda. You let your fellow take the lead after T'Challa comes to fetch you. Even if the king is planning a betrayal – and by now that seems unlikely – Steve would never allow the man to hurt you without a fight. You think he'd rather die; you know he'd rather die because you feel the same damn way.

Even so, you almost have a panic attack when the first place T'Challa brings you is some fancy laboratory. The man said something about fixing up your arm, but you were expecting a brief stop and chop just to get you functional. Maybe a small clinic or a single doctor who had some time to spare. Not this: not bright lights and gleaming metal tables that are covered with tools and prototypes. Not unfamiliar tech and a horde of strangers, the entire scene underpinned by that antiseptic smell.

The scent seems to claw into your throat, thick and burning, and you freeze on the threshold as you're caught in memories. Suddenly you're back in the hospital that winter when Steve had caught pneumonia, sneaking in to visit at all hours because you were completely terrified that your best friend would die. Suddenly you're back with Hydra, tied down to a table and screaming yourself hoarse when your handlers decided to upgrade your arm again.

“Bucky, you’re all right. You’re safe. It’s okay.”

You come back to yourself slowly. The shadows disappear and you find yourself slumped against the wall with the other man crouched down in front of you. He’s holding you close as he murmurs reassurance, his hands warm against your skin, and you flush when you see T’Challa looking at you worriedly. So you hide your face in the blond’s chest until you manage to stop shaking enough for you to speak.

“Sorry,” you whisper.

“Not your fault,” he answers. “I should have guessed you might have trouble with a lab. If I’d remembered, I could have asked T’Challa for something more low key. I was just so focused on getting you patched up.”

“I doubt you were expecting that kind of setup either,” you tell him, gesturing vaguely toward the door. “But I don’t think I can go in there. Too many people and the smell… ”

You feel like a coward as you shiver again, your breath still coming much too fast. But Steve just looks back at T’Challa and asks, “Can you…?”

“Of course,” the king says with a nod. He disappears through the door and gradually the sounds of activity begin to fade away. When T’Challa returns a few minutes later, there’s a woman with him. She seems very young to be a doctor but her gaze is fearless as she looks you up and down.

“I hear you don’t like my lab,” the gal says.

“Nothing personal,” you tell her. “Don’t like labs much at all.”

“Well, can’t say I blame you if you that’s the sort of tech that you’ve been getting,” she replies, taking a closer look at your left arm. “I assume that’s what I’m fixing. All function, no style; I suppose it would have been good back in the eighties but… is that thing bolted to your shoulder? What kind of butcher thought rivets were a good idea?”

“The bad kind,” Steve says. His tone is clearly meant to subdue the stream of questions but the girl just rolls her eyes.

Obviously. But you’re in Wakanda now and I can build you something better. Don’t worry about that.”

“I don’t need…” you start, but she just talks on over you.

“I mean, of course I’ll show you options,” the gal continues, waving off your protests. “I would never give you an arm that you don’t like. And hey, if you decide you’d rather rock that one-armed scruff a little longer, I think you pull it off. But either way, that old thing has got to be removed. You may be enhanced but you’re still lucky you haven’t been electrocuted or gone into septic shock.”

“I’m hard to kill,” you tell her.

“That’s no excuse for not getting proper treatment, white boy,” she retorts. “Now shush the lot of you and let me do my thing.”

She keeps up a running commentary in a mix of English and Wakandan as she scans your shoulder, darting in and out of the lab to grab the equipment that she needs. You’re grateful for her willingness to adapt her methods, though you can’t help tensing up when she kneels down next to you. Your frayed nerves see anyone by your weak side as a danger and if not for Steve’s calm presence, you might have run again. She offers you some painkillers to help you loosen up but you just shake your head; any drug strong enough to work would probably knock you out entirely. You’re used to being worked on without anesthesia and unless she plans to cut your damn arm off with a saw, you’d rather stay alert.

“I promise that my sister knows what she is doing,” T’Challa tells you as you try to relax. “She is the best in Wakanda.”

“The best in the world,” she corrects without an ounce of modesty. “But try to hold still if you can; this will be delicate.”

You’re expecting it to hurt and the first touch does sting a little. However, the princess is far gentler than any of Hydra’s doctors as she digs into your arm. She separates some wires and pulls off the metal panels, the entire process underscored by scornful muttering. Then she makes a noise of triumph and the pain just disappears.

“It doesn’t hurt,” you whisper, looking at your fella with wide eyes. You can’t remember the last time your shoulder wasn’t aching, a constant strain of tearing muscles and a pain down in your bones. You’d grown used to the sensation, endured it because you had to just as you’d endured a thousand other minor agonies.

“Of course it doesn’t hurt,” the princess tells you, seemingly oblivious to your awed surprise. Or perhaps she simply sees it as her due. “I’m not an amateur, not like the people who installed this thing for you. Honestly, it looks like they gave you a half-tested prototype and then kept grafting on the changes afterward. That’s just shoddy workmanship.”

“I’m pretty sure I was the test,” you snort and something in your tone stops her cold. She looks at you and then down at the chunk of metal in her hands before her face twists with an expression between horror and sympathy.

“Well, you won’t be doing that again,” she promises. “If you decide you want another in the future, you’ll have your choice of options and rigorous testing the whole way. I’d need to do some surgery to remove the old support frame, but I’d want you healthy first and seriously, white boy, you look like crap right now. Come back and talk to me once you’ve slept off your exhaustion.”

“I’ve been tired for eight decades, darling,” you reply with a faint grin. “That might take a while.”

“Good thing it’s not a race then,” she retorts. The princess snips off a few more wires and then covers the stump of your shoulder with a bandage, soft and thick to stop the metal from scratching anything. Then she sits back on her heels and turns to T’Challa. “Find them some beds, brother, before your friend here passes out.”

“That is the plan, sister,” he tells her, his tone and smile fond. “If you are ready?”

“Yeah, let’s do this,” you say, taking the hand Steve offers to pull you to your feet. You still feel almost weightless, light and insubstantial without the pain to ground you, and you hold onto your fellow's arm tightly as T’Challa leads you down the hall.

When you reach the door, the princess calls, “Get some rest. Doctor’s orders,” and you let go of Steve just long enough to give her a sharp salute.

You still have trouble believing that the royal family of Wakanda thinks that you’re worth helping, especially when T’Challa was so intent on murder earlier. But when the king shows you to your guest room, you decide that you don’t care. Whatever his motivations – temporary insanity or political power play, bleeding heart or plain delusion – you should enjoy the kindness while it lasts. You can worry about the rest of the world once T’Challa comes back to his senses because there’s a king-sized bed calling your name right now.

You shouldn’t still be tired after sleeping on the plane. But as soon as you see that bed, nothing can hold back the wave of bone-deep exhaustion that washes over you. Even with the serum running through your veins, you’ve pushed beyond your limits for too long and now your body is shutting down as the bill comes due.

You stagger forward and collapse onto the mattress, only vaguely aware of Steve talking to T’Challa by the door. You’re already half asleep when gentle hands tug off your shoes, the mattress dipping as your fella climbs in next to you. He tucks himself against your back and murmurs quietly, “I’ve got you, Bucky. Sleep,” and you’re out before he presses a kiss against your cheek.

You’re not sure how long you sleep. You know that time is passing because the sun has moved when you wake up, but you barely manage to stay upright long enough to use the toilet and get some food in you. You only eat cause Steve is there; you haven’t made it to the kitchens and you wouldn’t trust a stranger but the other man brings you a tray of unfamiliar delicacies. You try strange fruits and meats together, laughing when the blond eats something much too spicy and fighting over the last piece of sweet melon. Every moment is wonderfully domestic and you feel guilty when you start to yawn again. But the other man just smiles and stays to tuck you in.

This pattern repeats a couple times until you finally open your eyes and don’t feel the need to close them right away. Instead you give a languid stretch, enjoying the warmth and the softness of the sheets against your skin. You honestly can’t remember the last time you felt this good: nothing hurts, nothing even aches, and the undercurrent of fatigue that’s been your boon companion has finally disappeared. Instead you’re warm and comfy, no ice, no snow, no voices, and there’s exactly nowhere that you need to be.

You turn your head and your breath catches in your chest when you see Steve lying next to you. The other man looks like some kind of angel in the soft morning light, his face relaxed in sleep and his hair turned to shining gold. He’s fucking gorgeous and your heart swells with emotion: fondness, love and wonder swirling in your chest. You still don't know how you got this lucky and you reach out to touch Steve's skin just to ensure that he is real. You're half expecting your hand to pass right through him but his cheek is warm beneath your fingers and all you can think as the blond's eyes flutter open is, Damn, he's beautiful.

“Hey, you're awake,” Steve murmurs, reaching up to clasp your hand. “How're you feeling?”

“Like a million bucks,” you answer. “I think I’m finished sleeping for a while. Back to a normal schedule now.”

“I'm glad to hear it. You deserve to feel good, Bucky.”

“So do you, Stevie,” you reply and you can feel your grin turn wicked. “In fact, I know I haven't been around much to keep you entertained. Why don't you let me make it up to you?”

“You sure?”

“Am I sure? Seriously, you gotta ask? Get over here and kiss me, idiot.”

Steve doesn't need another invitation. He reaches out to pull you closer, rolling you beneath him as he claims your mouth again. You push into the kiss, slow and sweet and filthy. The weight of his body presses down into you and you revel in the feel of him, grinding your hips together lazily. You want the other man to feel how hard he makes you, how everything he does just takes your breath away.

Your fellow is still kissing you, searching deep and hungry as you wrap your arm around his neck. You woke up raring to go but you're not the only one and you can't hold back a groan when the blond's length slides against your skin.

“Come on, Stevie, just like that,” you order, slotting your legs together and bucking into him. You rock upwards, heat building in your groin as you keep on trading kisses. You lick your way between his lips and trail kisses down his jaw, Steve gasping out your name when you suck a mark into his neck. You could get off just like this, lose yourself in the feel and scent and sight of him all limned with golden light.

But you have the time now to love your fella properly. This is no rushed encounter back in Brooklyn, trying to stay quiet because you know the walls are thin. You aren't stuck out on the front lines, taking solace in each other the day before a battle in case you don't come home again.

This is sunlight and sweet kisses, soft touches and slick skin. Steve moans for you when you stroke your hand across his shoulders. He gasps and whimpers into your mouth when you rub your thigh against his length. He's warm and real and gorgeous and most importantly, he's yours.

So you swallow the blond's groan as you roll your hips together, sliding your hand down beneath the sheets. You flex your fingers against the smooth curve of Steve's ass and he gasps out your name sharply, burying his face against your neck. Your fella always did fall apart when you stroked his skin like this.

“Wait, Bucky. Wait a sec,” Steve says and you let him go the instant that his statement registers.

“What is it? Something wrong?”

“No, nothing like that,” the other man is quick to reassure you. “I'm just gonna lose it if you keep doing that.”

“I'm pretty sure that was the plan,” you answer, finding your smirk again when he leans in for a kiss. You thread your fingers through Steve's hair and let him take control as he slides your mouths together. Your fella deepens the kiss, pushing to take everything you give. His tongue sweeps across yours lips before plundering your mouth, mapping every corner hungrily. Then he sucks on your bottom lip and draws back reluctantly.

“Said that I was gonna ride you when we finally had a bed,” Steve murmurs, pressing fleeting kisses to your skin. “Want to feel you, Bucky. Want you to love me properly.”

The blond meets your gaze, his eyes dark with desire, and you're nearly overwhelmed by a wild rush of heat.

“God, Stevie. You're gonna be the death of me,” you groan. You slide your hand down his back and squeeze his ass again. “Tell me we have something. I'm still not gonna hurt you.”

“Right. Right, yeah,” you fellow mutters. He kisses you one more time before scrabbling at the bedside table, nearly dumping the whole drawer out when you grind up into him. You roll your hips lazily, enjoying the view as Steve sits back and holds up a small tube.

“I found this a few days ago,” he says with a triumphant grin. “Apparently T'Challa likes to keep his guests well-stocked.”

“Lucky for us,” you answer before tugging him back down. Things get a little messy as Steve slicks your fingers, teasing and stroking everywhere that you can reach. The other man writhes against you, gasps and whimpers falling from his lips as you breach him bit by bit. He's so tight, clenching hard around your fingers as though to suck you in. You try to stretch Steve gently but he keeps urging you on faster until you can't take it anymore. You pull your fingers out and your fellow rises up above you, a vision in the light.

“Stevie,” you whisper, the word punching out of you as the other man sinks down. He's slick and hot and perfect, everything you've ever wanted back in your arms again. When your fellow starts to move, you roll your hips to meet him and both of you groan loudly as you drive in deep. You know you won't last long, not with the way he feels. But you've both waited long enough.

So you let your eyes slip closed as heat builds inside you, your hand clutching at Steve's waist. You lose yourself in warmth and rough desire, fierce kisses and sweet promises murmured in your ears. The other man ride you hard, his moan a thing of beauty when you buck up into him. You want to hear Steve fall apart, want to feel him clench around you, and when reach up to stroke him firmly, your fellow does just that.

The blond comes with a choked off cry as he spills across your fingers and you can't help but follow him. You throw back your head and shout his name, giving one last thrust before you fall down into bliss.

When you regain your senses, Steve is curled against your chest, warm and pliant and somehow even more adorable. You've always loved him like this, the way his whole face softens and he cuddles into you. This is the Steve Rogers that no one else gets to see.

You stroke your fellow's hair, giving yourself a few minutes to enjoy the afterglow. But the serum in your veins enhanced more than your healing and soon you feel Steve harden once again. So you roll him over until you're the one on top this time. Then you repeat your actions from the other angle and the stretch of Steve inside you still feels like coming home.

Part IV

Tags: avengers, fic, mid-series, poignant, really-sucky-day*, steve/bucky
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