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Better Than Okay

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The above graphic was made the the lovely and talented theeone007 on Tumblr. 

 

“Come on, boy, don’t be such a baby.” - Number Nine (The Twilight Singers)

[6:28am, April 25th, Wakanda]

The first thing Bucky felt was a jolt as his left shoulder hit the floor, the metal grating across the tile beneath him. Everything was black. He couldn’t feel his legs, couldn’t move. Terror and anxiety well up inside him. His mouth was open, but nothing was coming out. No scream, not even a breath. Because he couldn’t breathe. His lungs were burning and the numbness in his body was quickly turning into a dull ache that was growing more intense as the seconds passed.

It felt like a lifetime, but it was probably only a handful of seconds between the moment he hit the ground and the moment he realized his eyes were closed. With effort, he opened them and saw a puddle of blood not more than two feet away. A boot print was in the edge of it, smearing the viscous, red pool. His skin was on fire, and he still couldn’t feel his legs. Still couldn’t breathe. Consciously thinking about his lungs, he tried to remember how to pull in a breath. He couldn’t think of the sensation; the muscle memory was gone. His mouth opened like a fish, trying to find oxygen.

Finally, he pulled in his first shuddering breath of air. The floor beneath him rumbled and shook. His skin wasn’t on fire; he was freezing. His right hand was lying limp in front of his face and it was a sickly, pale blue. What was happening? Where was he? Why was he on fire? No, not fire. Cold. His entire body was convulsing in shivers now. Bucky curled in on himself, dragging the edge of his metal shoulder across the floor. His left arm was missing. What?

“Can you move?” The voice was behind him, but Bucky didn’t know if he had the strength to roll over. “Barnes, can you move?”

Bucky opened his mouth and wheezed out an airy moan that didn’t make much noise at all. His tongue felt thick and heavy and useless.

“Barnes!” The man behind him had raised his voice further. Another crash and glass skittered across the floor in front of him. Some of the pieces landed in the pool of blood. What had he done? Who had he killed? What did HYDRA make him do now?

“Fuck,” Bucky managed to say, pulling in another breath and finding it easier to fill his lungs.

“Barnes, we’ve got to move.”

The man again. Bucky shifted onto his back. To his left was a cylinder with a door. It was leaning to the right and looked to be on the precipice of tumbling over. It almost did when there was another crash and concrete from the wall behind the cylinder scattered across the room, filling the space with chalky dust.

Gunfire. It had been on-going, but he only now registered it. Gunfire and the rumble of explosives. The woosh of someone’s leg flying through the air and connecting with a body. Combat. What had he done?

Suddenly the pieces fell into place. He was cold from the cryo chamber. Tony Stark had torn off his arm. He was in Wakanda. Bucky struggled until he was sitting up. The voice was…

“Barnes! Now!” T’Challa yelled, slamming his fist into a man who had been pointing an assault rifle at the back of Bucky’s head.

“What’s happening?” Bucky asked, pushing himself up to his knees. His body was vibrating, trying to regain warmth, and his head was still cloudy, his speech slurred.

T’Challa reached out and grabbed Bucky’s right arm, hauling him into a standing position. Bucky would have collapsed again if it weren’t for the other man holding him steady. “A lot is happening. We’re under attack, and we need to get you out,” T’Challa said.

The blast blew chunks of the wall closest to them across the room. On instinct, Bucky curled in on himself, his hand going to his head. His hand. Not hands. He could still feel the prosthetic even though it wasn’t there. Strange.

“What did I do?” Bucky asked, looking at the pool of blood and the body lying next to it.

“Nothing. You’ve been in cryo.”

“How long?”

T’Challa pulled Bucky away from the blood and through a doorway. There were screams in the corridor ahead. Screams and the sharp sound of gunfire. “Two years. Russia is…”

Three men rounded the corner, heading toward them. Bucky tensed, ready for a fight. T’Challa pointed at the men and barked out orders. They were his men. Oh. Bucky’s mind wasn’t moving fast enough to keep up. And he’d just realized he was naked. And so cold. “Russia?” he asked.

T’Challa grabbed a sheet off a piece of equipment and threw it at Bucky. “International crisis,” he said. “We’re at war with Russia.”

Oh. So it wasn’t about him after all. What the hell had happened in two years to bring Wakanda and Russia to war? He wanted to ask, but T’Challa shoved him at a tall man in tactical gear.

“Take him to the roof. They should be here in five minutes.I need to go help our people,” he told him the man.

Bucky stumbled forward and hit his shoulder against the wall. The door to the stairwell was only a few feet away. He trusted T’Challa, but not anyone else. His mind was already trying to think of contingency plans. How could he get away? Where could he go? A bullet hit the concrete wall by his head, not six inches from his ear.

The tall, bald man reached out and pulled him up the two steps to the stairwell door. “Go,” he told Bucky. “Top floor. They’ll meet you on the landing pad.”

“Who?”

“Go!” the man yelled, lifting a strange-looking gun up and aiming it down the hallway. The gun sizzled like it was a stun gun or powered by electricity. Bucky didn’t stick around to wait for what was about to happen. He grabbed the handrail of the stairs and struggled to get his legs to work properly. His muscle memory was coming back, but it was slow-going in this fast-paced environment. Each step was a struggle, each flight of stairs took an eternity. T’Challa had said five minutes. Who would be there in five minutes?

Bucky lost count of how many floors he climbed before he fought to ascend the final flight of metal steps. They were steel, not concrete like the others, obviously meant just for service personnel. What would be waiting on the roof? He clutched the sheet around his shoulders and pressed his back to the wall as he edged toward the door marked “maintenance.”

Cracking the door allowed him to hear the buzzing of an aircraft. They would be at the landing pad? Who would be at the landing pad? He couldn’t go out there without a weapon, especially not with a missing arm. The sound of rapid footfalls carried over the roof of the building outside. Someone was running toward the door. Bucky let it slip shut, hoping it would lock.

It didn’t lock, and a moment later it slammed open, bounding off the wall behind it. Bucky tensed, ready to launch himself at the possible attacker. He almost collapsed to the floor when he saw it was Steve.

“Bucky,” Steve said, relief in his voice. “Thank god! Come on. Let’s go.”

He probably wouldn’t have gone with anyone else, but Steve was okay. Steve was the only one who was okay.

///\\\///\\\///\\\///\\\///\\\///\\\///\\\///\\\///\\\///\\\

He was able to see the destruction of the building they’d just left as the quinjet was taking off. The front of it had gaping holes where missiles or bombs had busted up the impressive structure. A fire was burning on one of the lower floors and the courtyard in front was devastated. A few other buildings around it had taken some damage, but nothing so severe was the medical center where he’d spent the past two years, at least according to T’Challa.

The ground war was still going strong with groups of armed men clashing together near the courtyard the bombs had laid waste to. Bucky curled in on himself and pulled the sheet tighter. He was still cold–freezing, actually–and now he was nauseous. The woman at the controls next to Steve was familiar. He’d fought her before. Natasha, he remembered Steve telling him. The guy sitting across from him had a bowstring looped over his shoulder and a quiver of arrows hanging off his back. Clint. Bucky remembered him from the fight at airport.

Clint was standing and bent over to peer out another window a couple yards away. “Looks like they’ve got it under control,” he told Steve.

Steve stood and made his way back to Bucky. “You okay?” he asked.

Bucky didn’t know how to answer that question. Minutes before he’d been blessedly unconscious and now he was surrounded by war and on the run again. His stomach turned. “What happened?” he asked Steve.

“Long story.” Steve opened a compartment over the bench seat toward the back of the jet and pulled out some clothes. “There was an incident two weeks ago in Wakanda. A Russian diplomat was killed–shot in the head–when he left his plane. The Russians released audio of T’Challa and two of his aides discussing the assassination.”

“That…” Bucky started to say.

“Yeah, that doesn’t sound right. We have people working on it. The audio might have been doctored. Russia demanded T’Challa surrender himself to stand trial there. He refused. So Russia shot down a civilian aircraft flying from Wakanda to Finland. They said it was in their airspace and hostile. They rolled out two missiles they said were found on the plane, saying the weapons are Wakandan. That was at a press conference two days ago.”

“They looked pretty suspect,” Clint added with a roll of his eyes.

Steve nodded. “Yeah, they’re old technology. Not what is being used nowadays. So, Wakanda appealed to the United Nations, who basically said they couldn’t get involved. Yesterday Russian claimed Wakanda was holding a political prisoner. There was some video, but we can’t verify. When Wakanda denied it, Russia sent over fighter planes and a small group of their army to remove T’Challa from power.”

“What do I have to do with this?”

Steve handed over the clothes and sighed. “We’ve got intel that HYDRA may have infiltrated the Russian government.”

Bucky was almost sure he was going to throw up. His body was still shaking from the cryo and the stress. “What?”

Holding up a hand, Steve said, “We don’t know for sure. Some operatives who are undercover have passed along information that leads us to believe some of the high-ranking officials in the Russian government and military are HYDRA. We didn’t want to take any chances so we told T’Challa. Before the attack, he sent a secure message to us. Said he’d get you out if we could pick you up.”

Bucky didn’t know what to say. Suddenly it went from having nothing to do with him to maybe having everything to do with him. Why couldn’t they just leave him alone? Why couldn’t he just disappear? “Is this on me?” he asked Steve.

“No, Buck. This isn’t on you. You didn’t do anything.”

“Doesn’t feel that way.”

Steve put his hands on his hips and looked down at Bucky. “Go get dressed. We’re going to a safehouse.”

“Stark still want my head?”

“Not exactly. It’s been almost two years. A lot has happened.”

Bucky stood, his joints still aching a bit from the cryo. It would take him a few more hours to get to get back to normal. Coming out of cryo without the usual protocol was difficult and shocking to the body, even an altered one like his.

///\\\///\\\///\\\///\\\///\\\///\\\///\\\///\\\///\\\

[8:21pm, April 25th, Tennessee]

“None of the safehouses will work. They are all connected to the government in some way, mostly old SHIELD places. If they make the connection and find him in a government safehouse, then we’re screwed,” Natasha said.

“We don’t even know that this has anything to do with him,” Steve argued.

“Assuming the audio evidence against T’Challa has been modified or created by the Russian government or those operating within it, there is a sixty-eight percent probability that Mr. Barnes is, at least in part, the catalyst for the conflict.” The man who spoke was called Vision by Steve. His face was red and his spandex suit was blue. He had a cape and looked like he was something other than human. He acted like a robot, but with all these mutants nowadays, you never could be sure. What Vision said didn’t make Bucky feel any better about the situation.

“We can’t make assumptions when we don’t know important fact,,” Sam said. Bucky was glad for his familiar face, but would have only admitted it grudgingly.

“But we can’t put him in a safehouse and risk an internal link that is going to pull the United States government into the conflict between Wakanda and Russia,” Natasha replied.

“Maybe we should be involved.” Steve was pacing the floor of the small log cabin in the heart of rural Tennessee. They’d arrived an hour ago and shortly after that Vision had arrived with a woman named Wanda and a man named Bruce Banner.

Clint snorted from his spot in front of the fireplace. “You love starting those fights, don’t ya, Cap?”

“This is an injustice,” Steve said. “We have proof that the Russian government has…”

“We don’t have proof,” Natasha replied. “We have intelligence that points to that. We have proof that some members of the military and government have ties to HYDRA. The public thinks HYDRA is dead. It’s been gone for years. They’re not going to buy it.”

Bruce, who hadn’t said anything since he’d arrived, pulled his glasses off and pinched the bridge of his nose. “She’s right, Steve. The government can’t enter this conflict without taking sides. And we don’t know if the audio of T’Challa is fabricated.”

“It is,” Steve replied, not a doubt in his voice.

“And if it is, then putting Barnes in a safe house could be a risk. Let’s assume you’re correct and HYDRA, working through the Russian government, was able to locate Barnes in Wakanda. His location–his identity–was only known by a handful of individuals. Their intelligence network must be extensive if they did find him. And, if so, how are we going to do any better if we use a place on the government’s list? A mole could out him easily. And then HYDRA could extract him and bring him back into their fold. They could kill him. They could start a war with the United States. They wouldn't think twice about fabricating evidence to show the assassin who took out the Russian diplomat was the infamous James Barnes from a few years back, from the bombing of Sokovia during the signing of the Accords.”

“That was disproved,” Steve snapped.

“Memory is only as good as people want it to be. And the governments will go with public opinion. Russia could say we’re harboring a criminal.”

“So what do we do, then?” Steve asked, turning to look at Bruce who was seated in an armchair by the door. Clint shrugged from his spot by the fireplace.

Wanda was seated on the end of the couch and Vision was standing beside her. “I don’t have any answers, Steve. But he’s right. Best case, HYDRA finds him and gets him back. Worst case, we start a war.”

“Statistically…” Vision started to say.

“Don’t,” Sam warned him. “We’ve had enough statistics.”

“We need to find a place not associated with the government,” Bruce offered.

“And not associated with any of us,” Natasha said. When Steve opened his mouth, she added, “I know you are going to say your apartment in Brooklyn, but that’s not happening. Too many eyes. Too many cameras, surveillance, whatever. It wouldn’t work.”

“Then where?” Steve looked at everyone in the room except at Bucky.

Bucky was still nauseous, but it wasn’t from the aftereffects of the rude awakening from cryo. It was from the argument happening right in front of his face. People–most of them strangers–trying to figure out where to put him. Like he was a leper. Everything he touched went to shit. Everything.

The pair of sweatpants and the hoodie Steve had given him had been difficult to put on with one arm. He’d spent fifteen minutes in the bathroom of the quinjet trying to figure out how to pull the zipper on the hoodie up with just one hand. By the time he’d accomplished dressing himself, he’d felt exhausted and disgusted. He’d dry-heaved into the toilet, spitting out the excess saliva that his nausea had produced, and then he’d splashed some water on his face and reemerged to Steve buzzing around him like a mother hen.

When they’d arrived at the cabin in a foggy valley of Tennessee under the cover of darkness, he’d taken up a spot in the corner furthest from the door. There was a low bench underneath a window there. He’d been sitting on the bench trying to remove himself from consciousness. Without slamming his head against the floorboard, he wasn’t sure there was a way to accomplish that without drugs.

There was a gun underneath the bench, though. He’d been thinking about it for the past twenty minutes. He could reach down and grab it. It would only take a couple seconds to bring it up to his head and pull the trigger. Only a couple seconds and this could be over for him. And for them. He was poison, and he’d already caused enough problems, enough pain and suffering. He’d been an instrument in wars and conflicts for decades. He didn’t want to be the catalyst for starting another. Vision’s statistics were damning.

Wouldn’t that just be the best thing? A shot to the head and Steve would be free to live his life without worrying about the shell of a man that his old friend had become. HYDRA wouldn’t be able to use their favorite weapon any longer. Just a couple seconds and it could be over, and he could be numb.

His right index finger twitched. The gun was a forty-five. Even if it wasn’t loaded with hollow-points, a forty-five to the head would be an instantaneous death. Bucky leaned forward, his forearm braced on his knees and his head hanging down. The glint of the gun’s nickel finish was easy to see from this vantage point. Now he just had to bend over and pick it up. He’d have to be fast, though. Steve would try to stop him. His finger twitched again as he thought about pulling the trigger, thought about how the muzzle would feel against his temple.

It would be easier with his prosthetic. Not having it was throwing his balance off a bit, making quick movements more difficult. But he could still do it. He hunched down a little more, letting his arm slide off his knee to hang between his legs. The gun was only inches away. Only a couple seconds from oblivion.

The door banged open with a thud, making Bucky jerk to attention.

“You have no idea what a pain in the ass it is to track a god down.” The voice belonged to Tony Stark, someone Bucky was all too familiar with. Maybe he wouldn’t have to kill himself. Maybe Stark would walk over and pummel him to death. Steve wouldn’t let him, his mind supplied. But the rest of them could restrain Steve while Stark put Bucky out of his misery.

“Friends, it has been too long!” A man with long blonde hair and some sort of leather armour walked in behind Tony, a wide smile on his face. A red cape brushed over his bare arms as he threw them out in greeting. “Too long!” he said again. “How are my brothers and sisters in combat?”

“He’s been like this since I found him,” Tony said with a roll of his eyes. “You need to tone it down, buddy.”

“Tone what down? My pleasure at being reunited with my…”

“Yeah, tone all that down,” Tony replied.

Bucky tensed when Tony’s gaze passed over Steve to settle on the bench at the far side of the room.

“Tony,” Steve warned. “We agreed…”

Tony lifted a hand to wave away whatever Steve was about to say. “Yeah, yeah, we’re good. He’s all Manchurian Candidate. My jets are cooled. Still don’t like the asshole, though.”

Thor was trying to hug Vision. Vision seemed as uncomfortable as an android could be. “What is the plan, my friends?” Thor asked, giving up and clapping Vision on the back with a heavy hand.

“Yeah, where are we stowing our little problem child until this shitstorm blows over?” Tony asked, plopping down between Wanda and Natasha. “Hey,” he added, looking over at Bucky again. “You’re not going to go all assassin on me, right? I know things were a little dicey the last time we saw each other.”

Bucky didn’t know what to say. Even if Tony wanted a fight, he didn’t think he could take the other man. He was missing an arm and had no desire to fight. He’d rather just die. And he’d been so close to it before the door opened.

“Like I said, you’re still an asshole, but perspective: I have it.” Tony pointed at him. “You step outta line, though…”

“Shut up, Stark,” Sam said.

“We need a safe house for him,” Natasha said, looking from Tony to Thor. “Either of you know of a place?”

Tony shrugged. “Stark Industries owns a place up in northern Saskatchewan. Remote. No neighbors. Buck-sicle here will feel right at home since it’s cold as balls up that way.”

“If he’s discovered, we could say he broke into an unoccupied Stark Industries property,” Bruce added.

“No,” Steve said, resuming his pacing. “He can’t be up there alone.”

“Steve, we don’t really have a choice,” Natasha replied.

Bucky leaned forward again. If he could get to the gun then this could be over. He could be done feeling like a murderer, a burden, a worthless piece of shit who should have died eighty years ago. He dropped his head and stared at the satin nickel finish of the gun. It was a Sig Sauer–expensive and reliable. It would do just fine.

“Not alone,” Steve repeated. “He needs company.”

“We need to be realistic, Steve. Anyone we involve outside of us could be in danger or–possibly worse–could betray us and turn him over. Which could cause an international incident at this point,” Bruce said.

Bucky dropped his right arm–his only arm–to hang between his legs, the fingertips brushing the floor.

“As much as I would have loved to see you blow your brains out a couple years back, cleaning the gore off my grandmother’s curtains would really be a fucking bummer.” The dry voice was Tony’s. Bucky looked up to see the other man watching him with sharp, assessing eyes. Bucky felt like he had lead in his stomach.

“What are you…?” Steve stepped forward and saw the gun. “Bucky, no.” His look of shock turned into a look of pain.

“Just doin’ us all a favor,” Bucky muttered, standing up and moving toward the door. He found it difficult to be around people in the best of circumstances. Sitting in a too-small room with nine other people was suffocating and panic-inducing. Air. He needed air. And that fucking gun so he could end this whole charade.

He opened the door and stepped out into the cool night. “Bucky,” Steve called out after him. Ignoring his friend, he stepped across the covered front porch and stood at the top of the steps.

“Just let me do it, punk. We both know it’s what needs to be done. I tried to hide, and I tried to go back into cryo. Neither worked. I’m a fuckin’ mess, and I’m screwing up everything.” He didn’t look behind him, but he knew Steve was there.

“This isn’t your fault. I’ll go to Saskatchewan with you.”

“Steve, come on. This is just delaying the inevitable. I’m a danger to everyone. I shouldn’t even be alive.”

“Bucky, no. You’re the victim here. They did this, not you.”

“I’ll go on my own. I’ll stay there.” He looked over his shoulder and saw Steve standing in the doorway, looking like he was losing his best friend. He hadn’t even spent that much time with the punk. It had all been running and fighting and death since they’d been reunited. Bucky didn’t understand why Steve cared that much; he had a whole life to live that had nothing to do with a ghost from nineteen-forty-five. “If they find me, I’ll put a bullet in my head before they can take me.”

“No, we’ll figure something else out.”

“It’s for the best. I can’t be around people. Not now.”

The voices of the team inside rose. He could hear the caped, blond guy talking. He must be Thor. He looked like Thor. Steve turned around to hear what was being said.

Bucky’s mind felt numb, but his chest felt tight, like a ten ton weight was pressing down on him. The wind picked up and blew his hair into his face. He raised his left hand to brush it away, only then realizing that his left hand wasn’t there. The hair flapped in his face. He wanted this to end. It was too much.

Descending the three steps, he stood in the dirt by the porch with his hand on the railing while he bent over and dry heaved into the weeds growing along the foundation of the cabin. Just like in the plane, nothing came out but saliva.

“I must have your word he will not hurt her,” Thor said. He spoke with gravity, like everything said was a fucking proclamation. Guess being royalty would do that.

“Bucky, come in here,” Steve said, walking to the top of the steps and looking down. “Come in here. We might have a solution.”

“I have a solution, punk.”

“That’s not a solution. Thor might know someone who can help.”

Bucky’s stomach curdled at the idea of a babysitter. A handler. This time when he bent over, he threw up yellow bile. It burned and tasted sour. “No. I don’t want a caretaker. I’ll go to Saskatchewan by myself,” he said, wiping his mouth on the sleeve of the hoodie.

Steve stepped down to stand beside him. “Let’s just talk about it. I’m sorry. We’ve been talking about you like you’re not here. That… I shouldn’t have done that. Come inside. Final decision is up to you.”

“You know my decision.” To blow my brains out went unsaid.

“That’s not an option. It can’t be.”

Bucky spit the sour saliva in his mouth out onto the dirt by the steps and followed Steve back into the house.

“Your word, Steve Rogers,” Thor said when they walked in the door.

“You have my word. And you have his word.”

“I do not know his character, but I know yours.”

“His character is the same as mine. He would never hurt anyone unless they were trying to hurt him.”

“Ehhhh, he kinda killed my parents,” Tony said from the couch.

Bucky wanted to turn around and walk out. “That wasn’t him,” Steve said, his face turning a bright red. “And you know it, Stark. You…”

Tony waved away what Steve was about to say. “Yeah, yeah, I know. Brainwashing and all that jazz.”

The gun was gone. Someone had taken it from under the bench. Bucky assumed it had been left there in this safehouse in case hostiles arrived. It was tucked away in someone’s jacket or in a locked drawer now that unstable Bucky Barnes was around.

“And can you assure me this brainwashing he speaks of will not put her in danger?”

God, what were they talking about? He should be dead. He should be buried in a shallow grave in the middle of nowhere right where he fell off the fucking train. When he escaped from HYDRA, he’d thought he could keep his head down and live quietly. It had become perfectly clear that it just wasn’t possible.

“I give you my word he would never hurt her.” Steve sounded so sure of himself. Bucky wasn’t so sure. He was far from sure, actually. Who was she?

“Are you sure, Steve?” Natasha voiced the question that Bucky was thinking.

“She’s a civilian. HYDRA doesn’t even know about her. Taking her out won’t be necessary even if the worst happened,” Steve reasoned.

“I’ll kill myself if they find me,” Bucky said from behind Steve.

The room got uncomfortably quiet. Bruce cleared his throat and shifted in the chair. “Well, I think we can all agree he’s serious, considering…” Yeah, Bucky thought, considering I was so close to doing it with an audience of nine superheros.

“Where is she?” Steve asked.

“In the desert. Only a few leagues from the place I landed when my father exiled me,” Thor said.

“Yeeeeeeah, we’re gonna need the name of a town, blondie,” Tony said.