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can't play on broken strings - part 4

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, angst and fluff
Word Count: about 34,300 words
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
Part III


You spend most of the day in bed, only convinced to get up when your stomach won't stop growling and you don't have the energy to go another round. At least, that’s what you think. But when you let Steve pull you into the shower, the sight of him all wet and naked gives you a second wind. There’s room enough for both of you to be quite acrobatic and the water never goes cold even though you take your sweet time in getting clean.

Once you finally get dressed, Steve leads you to the kitchens and it’s immediately obvious that he’s charmed the palace chefs as he charms most everyone. The men and women greet you warmly even though you know you must be disrupting their routine. No one seems to mind your presence, the head chef sitting you down at a table with a basket of fresh bread while one of the others starts gathering a meal.

“You caught us just after dinner so there are plenty of leftovers,” the woman tells you. “Please stay and eat your fill.”

“Thank you. But if we’re in the way, I can grab a tray like usual.”

“Don’t be stupid,” she says, waving off Steve’s offer. “It is good to see our work appreciated and you both look in need of feeding. I assume this is the person all those trays were for?”

“Yeah, this is Bucky,” the blond replies, grinning at you fondly as he reaches out to take your hand.

“You have good taste. He is a cute one,” the chef tells him, looking you over with a wink. Although your fellow flushes at her words, he doesn’t let go and you really could get used to this. “Now eat your fill, the both of you. I’ll be supervising kitchen cleanup if you need anything.”

The cooks load you down with breads and meats and dishes that you still don’t know the names of until even two starving supersoldiers can barely take another bite. You ask Steve about Wakanda while you eat, wanting to hear all the details you missed out on when you kept falling back asleep. So the other man tells you about the palace and the city, about the planning for T’Challa’s coronation that he keeps getting roped into. But eventually Steve runs out of comic stories and you sit up a little straighter when his tone turns serious.

“I’m glad you woke up now, Bucky,” the other man says softly. “There’s something I need to tell you and I was running out of time.”

“What it is?” you ask, looking for the exits automatically. You’re already thinking the worst – Hydra found you, Ross found you, T’Challa is a traitor after all. “Do we need to leave?”

“What? No. We’re safe here,” Steve answers and now you’re just plain confused. Why does he look so worried if you don’t have to run? “It’s just that T’Challa managed to find out where my friends are. They’re in a special prison and it’s awful, Bucky. I’ve got to get them out.”

“Of course you do,” you tell him. That explains the guilt at least.

“You don’t mind?” he asks. “I didn’t want to leave without saying goodbye but they’ve been trapped too long already. From what I’ve heard about Ross, I probably don’t have much time to spare.”

“Oh, right,” you say, looking down at your left arm. Somehow you’d managed to forget that it was missing; that Steve would be going into battle without you at his side. “I suppose I wouldn’t be much use with this.”

“Yeah,” Steve winces. “I could send someone else instead.”

The words sound like they pain him but you know he’d do it for you. He would but he shouldn’t and so you just shake your head. “No. I know you, Stevie. You’re a dumb punk with a martyr complex but that’s the man I fell in love with and I don’t want you to change. Go be a hero. Rescue your friends. Just make sure you come back afterward.”

“I will, Buck. I promise.”

You spend the next two days helping your fellow plan his jailbreak, offering suggestions on the entry and dragging him off into the city when his eyes begin to cross. On your first trip T’Challa joins you, apparently even kings-to-be still need a break sometimes, and the other man makes a surprisingly good tour guide. The king doesn't exactly introduce you to his subjects – he's not completely crazy – but he knows every hidden treasure in his city and he shares them happily.

Everywhere you look, Wakanda is full of color. The capital is bustling with sounds and smells, so full of life and joy that it nearly overwhelms you, and you think that you could fall in love with this country easily.

T’Challa clearly loves his people and when his sister decides to tag along on your next outing, you can see she feels the same. The princess is quick and sharp and brilliant, her words markedly sarcastic but there's kindness on her face. She almost never used your real name even though her brother finally gives you a formal introduction and she moves with the air of someone who has no doubt about her place within the world.

It takes about five minutes for you to decide that you adore her.

Shuri reminds you of your little sisters – if they’d been fond of building rockets – and she has you wrapped around her finger just as quickly as they did. Somehow the princess even convinces you to visit her laboratory, a place you never thought you’d go back to willingly. You’re nervous at first. You think you’ll always be a little nervous when you see white walls around you. But Shuri lures you in with talk of testing Steve’s equipment and now that you’re less shell-shocked, her lab is clearly very different from the darkness that still haunts your memories.

So you let the princess show off her creations, trying out a few of the less dangerous inventions, and you don’t have to pretend to be impressed. With gear like this, Steve’s jailbreak should go smoothly and you try not to worry when he leaves.

The blond is as prepared as you could make him. He’s well-armored and well-armed with both tech and information. T’Challa even sent some of his guards along as backup and the Dora Milaje are warriors through and through. You tell yourself that he’ll be fine and you know it’s probably true.

But you should still be with him.

You should be the person standing at Steve’s shoulder. If he’s going to keep on running into danger – and you know the damn fool will – then at your fellow’s side is the only place you want to be. Steve is yours: yours to love, yours to hold, and yours to protect as long as you both live.

Which means you need your arm back. Shuri has already shown you a few options and given what you’ve seen of Wakandan tech so far, even her first prototype would probably kick ass. The princess will build you a weapon if you want it, as deadly as the Winter Soldier’s but without the blood-soaked history. She trusts you to use her gifts for good instead of evil – to protect instead of ruin – and that’s why you can’t accept.

Someday Hydra will find you. Someday they’ll speak the words and the Winter Soldier will run rampant once again, a Trojan horse in the very heart of Wakanda’s capital. You’ll betray T’Challa then. You’ll betray his kindness, his forgiveness, and his trust in equal measure, and the more you let his sister give you, the more damage you will do before you’re finally taken out.

You can’t make yourself more dangerous as long as Hydra’s poison still lingers in your mind. But you also know that you’ll go crazy if you have to watch Steve fight without you. You’re caught between two absolutes – two futures you can’t bear. You need another option and it’s this need that drives you to seek T’Challa out.

His guards don’t try to stop you from entering his office. The women just wave you through the door as their king greets you with a smile and the lack of suspicion tells you that you are doing the right thing.

“Hello, my friend,” T’Challa says, putting down his paperwork.

“Can I talk to you?” you ask before adding, “In private, I mean,” a little awkwardly.

“The Dora Milaje are sworn to secrecy,” the king replies. “And I am fairly certain that they know everything. But you may close the door if you wish. We shall pretend that they are not listening.”

That will have to do. So you shut the door behind you and then pull up a chair. You sit in silence for a minute, fidgeting anxiously. Although you know what you need to say, you’re not sure how to say it. But T’Challa doesn’t press you; he just waits patiently.

“How much do you know about the Winter Soldier?” you ask eventually.

“A great deal,” the other man replies. “When I believed you killed my father, I gathered as much information about you as I could. Your past is one of the reasons that I chose to give you sanctuary.”

“Most people would say that my past makes me a monster.”

“Most people are fools,” T’Challa answers evenly. “They want someone else to blame for all their sorrow and at first I was no different. Hating you was easy. But once I looked beneath the surface, I realized that you were as much a victim as my father. You did not deserve what Hydra did and you do not deserve to take the blame for the Winter Soldier’s crimes.”

“Maybe,” you tell him, still a little shocked by the trust he shows in you. “But I am dangerous. The UN got that much right. You know I tried to kill you in Berlin.”

“Yes, I know. At the time I thought it normal, but lately I have wondered. Why was that fight so different from the rest?”

“Because that was the Winter Soldier,” you reply. Speaking the words feels like pulling off a bandage and suddenly the rest of your explanation just comes spilling out. “If you read my file, you know that Hydra liked to wipe my memory. Dug their hands into my brain and ripped my conscience out. I’ve been trying to be better. Trying to keep the Soldier buried. But Hydra’s triggers are still there. Zemo said the words and that was it; I was his puppet to command.”

“I am sorry,” T’Challa says, watching you with open sympathy. “That does explain some things.”

“I’m not here for your pity. I’m here to ask for help,” you tell him. “If anyone can fix my mind, it would be your sister and I need the triggers out. Otherwise, I’ll always be a danger to you and Steve and everyone around me. I’ll always be a bomb just waiting to go off and I can’t let you keep helping me; you can’t give me an arm, your trust and freedom as long as that’s the case. You should probably lock me up – if you were being safe, you would – but if there’s another option, I’d rather try that first. I don’t know what Zemo did with the instruction manual but I know the words – I have to – and maybe that will be enough.”

“There was a manual?”

“Of course there was,” you snort. “The little red book of brainwashing. For a group of evil scientists, Hydra sure loved its paperwork and whenever they shipped off the Winter Soldier, they usually shipped the manual too.”

“I think there is something I must show you,” T’Challa says, sounding oddly serious. He walks over to the wall and when he touches something, a painting of the palace slides up to reveal a hi-tech safe. You look away as the king presses his hand against the panel and then enters a combination, feeling no need to learn his secrets. But when you look back, T’Challa is holding a familiar scarlet notebook and you snap to your feet instantly.

“Where did you get that?” you demand, panic welling in your chest. Although you don’t think he means to hurt you, you back up anyway. The farther you get from that damn book, the better off you’ll be.

“Zemo had it,” the king tells you quietly. He sets the notebook down on his desk and walks toward you slowly, holding both his hands out soothingly. “I did not know what it was and I still haven’t had the time to translate the text. But I had a feeling that I should not hand it off to the UN and I am glad I listened now.”

“Yeah, that would have been…” you trail off with a shudder at the thought.

“If you ask, I will destroy it,” the other man says. His voice is low and gentle as though trying to tame a frightened animal and you have to admit, that’s not too far off the mark. You barely manage not to flinch when he reaches out to clasp your shoulders, taking one shaky breathe before you let the tension fall. “Shuri cares about you and I know she’ll wish to help you. With or without that notebook, we will not turn you away. The decision is yours, my friend. If you wish to take the book, I will forget I ever saw it. Or give it to my sister and I swear we will destroy it the moment you are healed.”

“I- I don’t want that thing near me,” you whisper. “And Shuri shouldn’t have to read about what Hydra did to me. But I’m selfish and a coward. If that book can help her fix me, then I’m weak enough to ask.”

“I do not think you are a coward,” T’Challa tells you. “You are one of the bravest men I have ever met and we will do everything in our power to see that you are freed. Please trust us if you can.”

After you give him a shaky nod, the king picks up Hydra’s notebook. He tucks it inside his jacket and you feel better as soon as its red cover is hidden out of sight. Then T’Challa takes you to Shuri and explaining what you need is easier the second time around. The princess offers her help immediately just as her brother did, though she can’t promise fast results: “I know I’m amazing, but I’m not a neurosurgeon and I don’t want to make things worse. We’ll need to do this carefully.”

“I don’t need you to cure me overnight. Breaking my programming at all would be a miracle.”

The attempt alone is more than you ever thought you’d get.

So you spend the next few days in Shuri's lab, letting her take brain scans and trying not to hyperventilate. Being near any kind of medical equipment still makes you twitchy, although the memories of Hydra seem to be fading gradually. You keep the princess company as she pores over your results, borrowing her computer to refresh the international news sites constantly. If Steve’s mission goes tits up, you’re sure that Ross will brag about it and so you watch for any mention of Captain America being taken into his custody.

In this case, silence is a good thing. That’s what you tell yourself. But you’re always grateful when Shuri says she has more tests to run. Trying not to panic serves as a distraction from your worry over Steve.

You don’t always manage to stop yourself from freaking out. When Shuri asks if she can try one of your triggers, you bolt from the lab without a word and it takes three hours before you feel calm enough to go back there again. You’re half expecting to be punished but the princess greets your return with heartfelt apologies. She’s more worried about you than about her research and that realization gives you the strength to listen when she tries to explain.

“I don’t want to do that to you. I really don’t. But I think I’ll have to use them,” Shuri tells you. “Those bastards altered your brain chemistry in ways I’ve never seen and I need to know exactly what happens when you’re triggered if I’m gonna make it stop.”

“There’s really no other way? I don’t want you to meet the Winter Soldier. I don’t want to bring him here.”

“I know. I’m sorry. I should be able to do better,” the girl says and she shouldn’t sound like that. Shuri’s voice is supposed to be filled with pride not self-recrimination and if you’d known that this would harm her, you never would have asked.

“It’s not your fault. You can’t expect to undo seven decades worth of damage easily,” you tell her, wrapping your arm around her shoulders. “And I’d rather you put me back on ice than hurt you willingly.”

“That’s it! Maybe that’s the answer!” Shuri exclaims. Her brief depression is forgotten as she turns to look at you with a mad light in her eyes. “We could put you back in stasis, just for a little while. Deep enough that you wouldn’t have to be the Winter Soldier but awake enough to read your brain activity. I have all of Hydra’s notes and I know I could design a better cryo-chamber, something much more comfortable. You could sleep through the whole process and then just wake up when you’re healed.”

Your first instinct is refusal. You hated the ice. You hated the cold that seeped into your bones. But you also meant what you said; you’d rather freeze than keep on hurting the people that you love.

“How- How long?” you manage to choke out. “How long would I be under?”

“I’m not sure exactly,” the princess admits, her expression dimming slightly. “I won’t know for sure until see what your brain looks like. Could be anywhere from a few days to a couple months all told. But I really think this plan is our best shot.”

“If you say it, then it’s true,” you tell her before sighing heavily. “I need to talk to Steve.”

You know that the other man won’t like it; you wouldn’t in his place. But even though the thought of going under terrifies you, you think you have to try it anyway.

“Should I keep looking for more options?” Shuri asks you quietly.

“No. Start designing your new chamber,” you reply. “I figure it will probably take a few days and we can't do anything till Steve gets back; he would never forgive me if I went under without telling him goodbye. But we’re gonna do this, princess. We're gonna do this and I hope to God it works.”

Of course, Shuri being Shuri, she has the chamber build and tested by the time that Steve comes back. The other man returns with a few new bruises, flush with the success of a job well done. He brings Sam to Wakanda with him – having dropped off the rest of his allies on the way – and Flyboy makes a startled noise when you greet your fellow with a kiss.

“I suppose that does explains things,” Sam says, clapping Steve on the shoulder once you finally break for air. “Seriously, though. I’m happy for you. You deserve some romance in your life.”

Flyboy doesn’t seem to hate you anymore. In fact, the man apologizes for being so suspicious, though you think that might be guilt. Sam says it’s his fault that Stark found you and maybe he did help, but you’re pretty sure that Zemo had to have a backup plan.

“Don’t sweat it too much,” you tell him. “Not like I haven’t made plenty of mistakes and you were trying to do right. You've been a good friend to Stevie when I couldn't. Keep doing that and we'll be square.”

Sam promises he will and you feel a little better about going under with the other man around. Hopefully Flyboy will stop your fella from doing anything too stupid while you’re gone.

You haven't told Steve yet. Instead you give yourself the evening to enjoy his company. You ask about the jailbreak and you're glad to hear his allies came through more or less unscathed. But the entire time you're talking, the only thing that you can think about is taking Steve to bed. His eyes are just as heated and you barely last through dinner before making your excuses.

“Have fun!” Shuri calls after you. She clearly knows exactly where you're going but you're not ashamed of Steve. Far from it actually. So you give the princess a smug smile of your own before dragging the other man back to your rooms. There you proceed to show your fellow just how much you missed him and neither of you gets much sleep that night.

You tell Steve about Shuri's plan early the next morning and you were right, he doesn’t like it. In fact, the expression on his face damn near breaks your heart in two.

“Y- You want to leave me, Bucky?” the blond asks, looking completely stricken. “But I just got you back again.”

“No, Stevie,” you murmur, reaching out to take his hand. “I’m not doing this to leave you; I’m doing it to stay.”

“That doesn’t make any sense. If you want to stay, then stay.”

“And what happens when someone figures out my triggers, Steve? What happens when you find yourself in bed with the Winter Soldier instead of Bucky Barnes?” you ask him, praying that he listens to your words. “I nearly killed you back in DC and I can’t do that again. If we don’t fix my fucked up head then I’ll never be able to stop looking over my shoulder. I’ll never be able to trust that I won’t hurt you and that’s no way to live. Please, Stevie. I know that it’s not fair but please don’t try to stop me. Please just be there if you can.”

Your fella looks like he wants to argue. He starts to speak half-a-dozen times and if he asks you not to do this, you know you’ll probably give in. But Steve doesn’t ask. He just pulls you into his arms, burying his face in your hair and pleading, “Promise you won’t forget me. Not again.”

“Don’t you know, pal?” you ask, leaning back just far enough to look him in the eyes. “You’re the love of my damn life, Stevie, and no matter what happens, nothing is gonna keep me from finding you again.”

“You better mean that, Bucky,” Steve murmurs, sounding close to tears. “You're the love of my life too.”

Then you take your fellow's hand and lead him to Shuri's laboratory. Steve's presence is a comfort as the princess preps the chamber and another Wakandan doctor gives you a change of clothes. Your fellow hangs back a little, waiting until the man is finished before returning to your side.

“You sure about this?” your fellow asks again.

“I can't trust my own mind,” you remind him with a slightly bitter laugh. “So until they figure out how to get this stuff out of my head, I think going back under is the best thing. For everybody.”

That’s what you say aloud but you know Steve hears the message underneath: I don’t want to be a weapon anymore. You know that your fellow hears you because he doesn’t ask again. He just leans in to kiss you one last time.

“I'm gonna miss you, Bucky,” the blond says quietly.

“Me too, Stevie,” you reply. “But I've got to do this now.”

He releases you reluctantly and you turn to follow Shuri. Steve stands watch as you climb into the chamber and you’re warmed by the promise in his eyes.

This is only temporary, that’s what his expression tells you. If the other man hasn't given up on you by now then it ain't never gonna happen and he's stubborn enough to turn his faith into reality. Because your fellow is right. You may have been the Winter Soldier but you're also Bucky Barnes and once your triggers have been deactivated, maybe you and Steve together will find some kind of peace. You and him against the world, that's how it's meant to be.

Until then, you’ll be waiting and one thought lingers in your mind as the darkness pulls you under. You hope there will be plums when you wake up.


End