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Little Animal Lives

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“No,” you say to T'Challa, even before the doctor has finished speaking.

“No,” you say, and it takes three Dora Milaje and the King of Wakanda to keep you from launching yourself at her. You twist in their grip, biting and scratching like a rabid weasel. Even one-armed you are almost stronger than them.

“No. Put me back.” Howling and begging, tears and snot running down your face, you are an animal clawing at the tiled floor, at anything you can get your hand on. “Put me back. Put me back. No. No. No. No. No.” A litany, a scream.

“James,” you flinch from T'Challa’s hands, gentle on your face. “James,” he says again. “Look at me. Look at me, please.” Maybe you look at him, but you do not see him. The room is loud around you. Your head is loud around you. “This is the only way,” T'Challa says. “The only way. It is this, or the cryochamber forever. There is no other option. You promised him. Do you really want to break your promise to Steve?”

They say his name and you fold, as always. You fold, and T'Challa’s arms come around you as you sob, shuddering and shaking. “Ah, James,” he whispers and presses his lips to your temple. “Ah, my boy. It is a hard thing, living.”

After, when they have washed your face and dressed you; after, in the small room, with small window and the closed door, the woman says, “Bucky, I know this is not what you expected, or what you wanted, but we needed to give you the choice.”

You shiver still.

“Bucky?”

“James,” you rasp, “I want to be James now.”

“Ok, James,” she smiles. “I know you are tired, and you don’t have to rush. Take your time. Think it over.”

There is a dog sitting quietly in the corner of the room. He’s sleek and black, and when he stands, long-legged.

“Is that your dog?” you ask.

“No, the woman, Esihle, says, “that’s your dog.”