Hold Me Closer, Kevin Bacon: Shaken, Not Stirred
September 8, 2016
“That’s it?” Sam looked skeptical, and no one could blame him after almost six months hiding out in Central Africa, trying to find time bombs in a man’s brain. Wanda gave a snort, clearly communicating that she didn’t think the process had been so easy.
“That was the last one.” Steve Rogers crouched down to get a better look at Bucky. “You back with us, jerk?”
Sam continued while they waited for Bucky to catch his breath, “You realize that even if that was the last one, this isn’t where it ends, right?”
“Yeah, I got it, Sam. Therapy for everyone. I’ll be there with bells on, I promise.”
“I’d pay a nickel to see that,” Bucky croaked out.
Steve couldn’t help the wash of relief that fell over him. He had to sit down it was so overwhelming. Buck looked exhausted, even worse than he had on the Helicarrier in DC when he was still under HYDRA’s control. Wakanda’s medical technology was light years ahead of what had been used on the Winter Soldier for decades, and a hell of a lot more humane, but being frozen and thawed a couple of times a month would take the stuffing out of anyone. Super soldier or no. “Hey, Buck,” he greeted his best friend softly.
“Damage?” The question was asked without inflection, and it made Steve’s chest hurt. Bucky asked the same thing every time he came out of an episode. His first concern was always who he had hurt, what he had destroyed.
“You’re getting weak in your old age,” Sam answered. “Nothing broken that wasn’t already, and you didn’t even get a hit in on me. Maybe you need more fiber in your diet? Metamucil? We could probably get you some of that.”
“Say that a little closer.”
Steve chuckled. Bucky wasn’t smiling, but the teasing with Sam was a good thing. The two had a healthy competition going on to see who could antagonize the other into losing his cool. Sometimes it made Steve wonder what it was about him that made him like hanging out with cocky, mouthy apes that didn’t have manners unless their mothers or a pretty girl were in the room.
“Why, you gonna give me a love tap, Sarge? Already forget the last time we tussled?”
They were the two greatest friends he could have ever hoped for. Despite his lack of serum or any connection to Bucky, and his relatively new association with Steve, Sam had followed him into battle. He went up against the American government and about every other government on Earth. He followed Steve to Wakanda – away from his own family – and spent every second he wasn’t training or working out how to fix Bucky with helping Steve not fall into guilty depression. He went toe to toe with Buck – no flinching – every time Natasha sent a clue about the triggers. Sam was the best kind of person.
“Yeah, must have. What with the spaghetti arm you got behind that right hook.”
And Bucky. Jesus. He had been ground down to almost nothing. Most men would have given up and put a bullet in their brains already. That wasn’t to say that Buck hadn’t thought about it. He had, Steve was all too aware. At the end of the day, though, he didn’t. He still wanted to live, wanted to get better, refused to give up. Even when that meant going back into the ice again. And again. And again. Steve felt a phantom shiver across his shoulders. He wasn’t sure he could have done it, in Bucky’s place. His own memory of going under with the Tesseract was short – but painfully sharp. That sort of cold, the brief minutes it took him to freeze, it had a special, dark, hellish place in his mind. The courage required to move forward and step into the cryo tank each time was what set Bucky apart from other men. Sam said the other veteran was just too stubborn to die. There was probably more than a grain of truth to that.
The other two men continued to pick at each other, Wanda listening in amusement, while Steve considered the possibilities for their future. They were still outlaws, although the fervor for their capture had died down significantly. Wanda had kept a close eye on social media and apprised Steve of the growing movement worldwide to clear his name. It helped that he had continued to do what he did best, aiding people. It certainly didn’t hurt that Iron Man and the official Avengers had never publicly supported his fugitive status, instead keeping to a firm no comment. In America, the presidential election had swept aside a lot of the news coverage. For better or worse, a tight race meant more focus on the candidates tearing each other down and less of a spotlight on actual issues. Like whether or not to uphold the Sokovian Accords and hunt down the First Avenger. Steve had never much cared for the title – or the dog and pony show that he seemed to get caught up in every time he tangled with the government – but he would gladly don the old tights and jump in front of a camera if that would get clean records for the rest of his team.
All those thoughts had been pushed onto the backburner for the past six months while he tried to get Bucky stable. With T’Challa’s help, Steve, Wanda, Sam, and Clint had saved lives on small and large scales – stepping in wherever the Avengers couldn’t because of politics. Natasha had fed them information, not just on the search for Bucky’s triggers and medical details, but on intel that couldn’t or wouldn’t be acted on unless Steve took the initiative. Scott Lang went home after a well-deserved vacation in tropical Wakanda. Despite Steve’s misgivings, Scott had no concerns about his freedom. Even before the Accords, he had been a felon and had run from the law. He felt more comfortable doing so on his own turf, near his daughter, where he had friends, family, and a significant portion of the SFPD on his side. And Tony…
Tony still hadn’t called. Steve wasn’t sure what he had expected when he sent the phone, but he wouldn’t deny he was disappointed by the radio silence. Publicly, Tony Stark continued to abide by the Accords – although on television he was just as much of an underhanded ass about it as ever. Privately, he had to know Natasha was helping Steve. A lot of the information she fed into Wakanda was earmarked by Friday’s servers. Tony never said anything to her though, and didn’t seem interested in directing Friday to stop any leaks.
There was the arm, too.
In July, on Steve’s birthday of all days, a set of encrypted blueprints had been sent to T’Challa. They were preliminary designs for a vibranium prosthetic arm. Every few weeks after that updates and changes had arrived, never with any notes. A prototype was sitting in a lab next door to the cryo chamber. Bucky had refused to even consider using it until he was sure he controlled his own mind, completely. Now that he did, there were additional issues to resolve. T’Challa felt confident in the skills of his medical personnel, but he had expressed concerns about the mechanical integration. It went unspoken that it would be better, safer, if Tony could be there when the arm was attached. But Tony hadn’t called, and the Accords were still in effect.
More stubborn and brilliant that anyone I’ve ever met, Steve thought. Except maybe Howard.
There were so many things that needed to be done, so many decisions to make, and Bucky’s recovery had been the last obstacle to moving forward with a long-term plan. That wasn’t Steve’s strong suit. Decisions on the fly, battle tactics, diversions and shoot-from-the hip ideas while under fire? Those he had no problem with. Figuring out how to put his country, maybe even the entire world, back on track seemed beyond his skill set. He hadn’t finished college. Didn’t even get to officer training school, he reminded himself with an internal sigh. It didn’t matter. His own shortcomings were inconsequential because the others were looking to him to lead, and no one more prepared was standing up to try and do what was right. Where once he had been a skinny, sick kid full of big notions and determination but held back by a body that allowed others to ignore him, now no one ignored what he had to say, but he wasn’t always sure he knew what to do anymore. He had plans, so many plans which he had agonized over, but moving forward was going to set him – all of them – on a path they wouldn’t be able to get off for a long time.
It was exhausting, to shoulder that responsibility.
For a moment he closed his eyes and allowed his chin to fall to his chest. A light touch on the back of the neck had him straightening.
“We are ready to be finished, yes?” Wanda squatted down next to him, careful not to let her ripped, on purpose if you can believe the waste, jeans touch the dirty floor.
“Yeah,” Sam replied. “If you’re ready Barnes, Wanda can do a last look-see?”
Bucky brushed his hair from his eyes and held out his only hand. “Go ahead, kid.” He grunted when she made contact with his palm, but he continued to watch her. Steve nearly held his breath. Without Wanda, everything would have been much more difficult. She had helped find the memories, the psychological blocks, which Natasha alerted them to and then stood by as backup while Steve and Sam helped Bucky work through them. Either by talking or beating each other bloody. Buck had been reluctant, understandably, to let someone else into his head, but Wanda had convinced him, given him access to some of her more personal memories in exchange.
The process had been beneficial to her as well. Steve watched the side of her face, her careful breathing and the flutter of eye movement under her lids. What she did for Bucky required fine control, testing her limits. It also gave her a measure of peace by doing something selfless. It would never erase for her the guilt of the deaths she had accidentally caused, but seeing some of what Bucky had gone through helped her understand that it was, truly, an accident.
“Yak svizhyy syr,” she muttered to herself. Bucky let out a short bark of laughter and Wanda smiled back at him as she opened her eyes and broke contact. “It is done, Steve.”
Steve let out a shaky breath and caught the eye of his oldest friend. Sam and Wanda high-fived. Bucky nodded, once and slowly, before a tiny smile ticked up the corner of his mouth. Finally, Steve had his friend back. Safe and whole. Mostly whole.
“We ready for departure, folks?” Clint spoke over the comm from his position on the roof. Steve knew he owed an enormous debt there as well. It had been six months since Clint had seen his family in person. He had missed baby Nathan’s first birthday, and a host of other milestones. He never complained, though. More than anyone else, Clint knew how important it was to secure Bucky’s mind.
Steve held out a hand to help Buck off of the floor. “Yes,” he replied, “let’s head out. We have a lot to do.”
“Live a little, man,” Sam laughed. “We got to celebrate the successes, right?”
“We can celebrate when we meet up with Scott,” Steve conceded. They all walked out to the battered jeep that would carry them back over the border and into Wakanda.
Wanda requested, “Tell him to bring that Luis guy, too, if he can leave San Francisco. I much enjoyed his stories.”
“You’re the only one,” Sam muttered.
Clint tossed the keys to Wanda and slid into the front passenger seat. “Don’t worry,” the archer assured everyone, “I know a great place for tequila just outside Rancho Dominguez.”
“Can’t get drunk,” Bucky said at the same time that Steve reminded them, “Alcohol doesn’t do anything for me.” Clint snorted and Sam shook his head in sympathy.
“I believe you Americans say,” Wanda started the engine, “more for me.”
* Yak svizhyy syr : Like fresh cheese.