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Promises You Can Keep

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“I want to go back under.”

T’Challa heard him down the hall, even if his Winter Soldier instincts told him to be as quiet as possible. The Panther Spirit made it hard for him to be snuck up on. Still, James Buchanan Barnes managed to surprise him. He always managed to find a way to do so.

The King turned away from the large floor-to-ceiling windows of his office to the one-armed assassin standing in his doorway. “By ‘go back under,’ you mean-”

“The ice,” he clarified.

T’Challa suspected as much, though it didn’t hurt to clarify. English had all sorts of euphemisms for things, most of which T’Challa knew, but Barnes being from a different time… there could have been misunderstandings. Besides, with such a serious subject matter, he wanted to be exactly clear on what he was being asked. “My country's scientists and therapists will help you.” He’d already spared no expense in gathering the top minds of Wakanda here in the capitol. If there was any helping James, they would be able to, and if they couldn’t… well then he would just find someone who could.

Barnes smiled painfully, like he was trying to be polite but was unfamiliar with the concept. “I know, and I appreciate your kindness and generosity, really I do, but I can’t…” He looked away from T’Challa now, staring hard at an ancient Wakandan artifact on his bookcase, like it held the words he was looking for. “What if I hurt someone else?” His voice was small and uncertain. He had a difficult time reconciling the man he saw before him with the Winter Soldier, the most feared assassin in history.

T’Challa took two strides toward him, only to stop when he saw the way Barnes flinched. He blinked slowly and stuffed his hands in his pockets. If his father were here, he’d joke about just how princely the gesture wasn’t. He wasn’t here though, so T’Challa moved on from that thought quickly. T’Challa didn’t have many regrets in his life, but certainly one of them was the way he treated Barnes… Bucky in his grief. Even if he had been the one to kill his father, he’d seen the records. He knew that he wasn’t in control for most of his life. He’d take care of Bucky, help him as best he could and then maybe he could start repaying for his sins.
“We’d stop you before you hurt anyone.”

Bucky scoffed, but still avoided his gaze. “And what if someone finds out the trigger words again? Or finds some new ones you and your scientists don’t even know about yet?” He went to fold his arms but, realizing the gesture was impossible for him, just wrapped his arm around his torso. “It’s only a matter of time before another guy with another vendetta sneaks in here.”

“You really think so little of my country’s security?”

“It’s not about security!” He yelled, eyes finally snapping back to T’Challa’s as he slammed his fist against the door jamb. The Panther Spirit’s hackles raised. If T’Challa were in his suit right now, his claws would’ve unsheathed reflexively. He calmed himself and the Spirit. There was no fight today, not that kind, at least. His security team showed up behind Bucky, their hands on their pistols. He sent them away with shake of his head. “…It’s about… It’s about knowing that I won’t wake up tomorrow and try to kill Steve or Sam… again,” he added with a humorless laugh, “because I forgot who he is… who they are.”

T’Challa did not like this. He didn’t like putting Bucky away like leftovers to be dealt with later. He almost said so, but changed his mind at the last second. Why would he care about T’Challa’s conscience? The King vowed to help Bucky in any way that he could. Who was he to deny Barnes’ wishes? Instead, he brought up the one person that might be able to sway him. “Captain Rogers will not like this.”

Bucky must have taken that as a sign of acquiescence because he visibly relaxed, leaning against the door frame. “I know. That’s why I need your help convincing him.”
“What makes you think I can change Captain Rogers’ opinion if you cannot? If even if his team could not?”

Bucky smiled fondly, probably at a memory of Rogers, but it still managed to make T’Challa’s heart skip in a way he dared not examine at the moment. “Right now, besides Sam you’re probably the one he trusts most. He’d listen to you. Besides, this is your country and you’re the king. He has to listen to you.”

T’Challa would never abuse his position in such a way, but he had a feeling the Bucky knew that. “Yes because Captain Rogers has such a fantastic history of obeying government orders.”

Bucky laughed, and rough and too short, but T’Challa had caused it and that made him feel more triumphant than a victory in any of his toughest sparring sessions. “Fair point.” He sobered though; too soon for T’Challa’s liking. “Will you help? I’d go to Sam, but even when he disagrees with Stevie, he still follows.”

He wanted to say no. He wanted to promise that he could fix any of Bucky’s concerns with time and effort, but if this was what Bucky really wanted, he could not deny him that. “It will take time. My scientists do not keep cryogenic tubes on hand.” Not life sustaining ones at least.

The relief in Bucky’s eyes made T’Challa’s heart clench. No one should be this relieved to be essentially putting themselves into an indefinite coma. “Thank you.”

“I promised to help you. If this is how you want to be helped, so be it.” T’Challa walked to the coat rack and grabbed his leather jacket. “Are you ready to go?”

Bucky blinked. “Already?”

“Not into the ice, my friend, but to tell the Captain. You wanted my help with that also, did you not?” He slipped past Bucky, pulling on his jacket as he walked down the hall.

With his enhanced hearing, T’Challa heard Bucky mutter. “Yeah, I know what you meant. That’s what I’m afraid of.” He laughed out loud.