Her first sight of Bucky Barnes is over the barrel of a sniper rifle in the hills to the west of Wroclaw, deep in German-occupied territory. He is young and martial then, frowning slightly as he watches the prison camp in the snowy valley below through the scope of his rifle.
Some seventy years later, Diana’s first sight of the Winter Soldier is sitting on a seat of carved stone in a tropical garden in Wakanda, leaning back so the hot sun falls across his body, the rough arm prosthetic a jarring sight in the fluid greenery of the garden.
He hears the footsteps along the path, but doesn’t open his eyes.
This is Wakanda, and T’Challa has given his word. Bucky trusts that word, and so he doesn’t look to see who it is.
Booted heels, so it’s a woman - but the tread isn’t right for the oh-so-helpful Maria Hill, the Dora Milaje wear Wakandan boots with a solid tread, and the medical staff go soft- shod.
Someone new, then. Who isn’t speaking.
“I’m enjoying the sunshine and I don’t need more headshrinking.”
“Is the view any good?”
He opens his eyes and stares.
Is the view any good?
She surprised him on that ridge above the prison camp. There was a pleasure in surprising him then that remains even now.
“You look— You haven’t changed a bit.” He glances down at his left arm, almost instinctively, and Diana thinks that what shadows his face is revulsion. Then he looks up. “How did you—? Who sent you?”
“Peggy Carter, from beyond the grave.” Diana explains. “She willed her private files to Ms. Hill. In it were records of my existence, and our interactions.”
“Trust Peggy,” James mutters, exasperated and admiring both.
“So,” Bucky says casually. “Are you here to rehabilitate me? Get me back into the world again by fixing my mind upon higher things? Because I can tell you now, I’m not going back.”
It’s what everyone’s been at him to do – to go back out into the world, one way or the other. And yet...he doesn’t want to go where people will watch him, fear him, hover over him. He doesn’t want to live under Steve’s worried gaze, or with the Wakandans constantly watching him, or in Romanov’s isolated exile.
He wants peace.
He can’t have peace.
I think, given your situation, you might be able to reach him. Nobody else has. But they’re more focused on what they want than what he wants.
“Actually, James, I’m here to help you disappear.”
The weariness falls away, to be replaced by wary hope. “Is that even possible?”
“I would not have offered it were it impossible. But,” Diana warns, “it will not be easy.”
“Nothing is easy,” he says, grim and weary. “Except maybe dying.”
“But you are not ready to die.”
The laugh is harsh, grating. “No. Because I never got to live .”
They leave Wakanda on foot, quietly, in the night, with nothing more than the instructions for the trails they are to follow out. Two people know that they are leaving at all – T’Challa (because it’s rude to just up and leave a host) and Maria Hill (because the woman seems to know everything ).
As the jungle swallows them up in its depths, Bucky feels like he’s a boy again, sneaking out of the house to run dockside errands during Prohibition. It’s forbidden and dangerous and fun .
And he’s accompanying the most beautiful woman ever.
That counts for a lot.
By the time dawn comes, they’re well out of Wakanda, heading south-east into the Kenyan mountains. Diana’s plan is to eventually head up into Somalia and out to the Indian Ocean.
Staying off the roads, using the tracks and the trails T’Challa provided them, it will take them nearly six days to reach the sea. Plenty of time to rethink a plan that she isn’t certain will work at all.
“You are taking the uncertainty surprisingly well,”
“My life has been pure uncertainty for the last three years.” He shrugs. “At least this holds the hope of freedom.”
They stop to rest, drink, and eat in the heat of the day, shoulder to shoulder in the jungle’s dappled shadows. Diana doesn’t flinch from the metal of the prosthetic arm against her side, simply takes it in stride with the acceptance that even Bucky and the Howling Commandos – more open-minded than most – sometimes found shocking.
Bucky watches her rest, her head thrown back, the strong, slender line of her throat rising out of the singlet top she wears, her hands dangling from her knees.
“Do you remember Pasterka?”
Her lips curve. “Yes. With great fondness.”
Diana falls in beside him on the way back from patrol. “Nothing to report?”
“All quiet.” He glances over at her. “We got the update from HQ – support will be at the meeting point tomorrow as you arranged, and your job is to get them back to England.”
“So we have only tonight, then?”
A startled glance beneath his lashes turns to wonder. Then he laughs softly. “Sweetheart, that’s a first. Why me?”
She likes his loyalty and laughter, his focus, and his open appreciation.
“Life is brief. Why not enjoy it?”
“Why not, indeed?”
As the ocean draws closer, Bucky’s fears return like ghosts to haunt him.
He says nothing to Diana, yet when she wakes from a rest to find him shaking and trembling with the force of old memories, her response is immediate – a slap across the face that knocks his head back. His vision swims, but the face that forms in his focus is not the square-jawed blond one he expects, but a woman whose dark hair is tightly pulled back and whose expression is concerned—
She places her palm against his cheek, echoing the slap. “You regressed.”
He pulls away from her touch, and Diana is conscious of the loss – not of his trust in her, but of his trust in himself.
Ms. Hill warned her that there was damage, showed Diana the files on what had been done to him. I don’t know if your people can help with this – if there’s any way to help this, shy of magic.
Why are you so intent on helping him?
Call me sentimental, but I think he should get to choose freedom.
Diana cannot give him back his trust; but he may earn it back himself.
When she takes his prosthetic arm and brings it to her cheek, Bucky stares. When she brings his other hand to her shoulder, he trembles.
“I can’t,” he says hoarsely, dropping his hands, although his senses leap at the thought. “No.”
“Joy is brief,” Diana reminds him in that thoughtful, careful way of hers. “And I do not fear you.”
“That’s not...” He can’t express everything that roils within him. Fear and guilt, anger and anguish, pain and a weariness that’s almost physical. And a plain and simple truth that reverberates within him.
“I fear you.”
“You fear yourself.”
His expression is bitter in acknowledgement. “That, too.”
Diana thinks of kissing him, of taking action rather than talking. But he trembles on the edge of uncertainty, and she cannot foist the decision upon him. So she simply withdraws her hands.
Only to have her wrist caught lightly in clawed metal fingers, to look into eyes that burn with hope and dread alike. “You would really...let me?”
“Would I have offered otherwise?”
“No, I guess not.” This smile has none of the cockiness of long ago. It trembles, caught in the possibilities of choice.
It’s more than just sex; Bucky knows this now as he knew it the first time.
Then, there was intimacy and trust. She laughed like the ripple of the tide against the docksides, and he pleased her both without and with her explicit instruction, and in the morning they parted with only a smile.
Now, there is intimacy, yes, and trust, but also humanity . Her hands directing his fingers on her flesh, the sting of her teeth on his earlobe, the shattering jerk of his body as he comes too soon.
He remembers her instruction of long ago, though.
Diana remembers his generosity of spirit – not all males have been as thoughtful through the years. Steve had been, but then, he’d also had something to prove on behalf of all men.
In the aftermath of pleasure, she supposes that James has something to prove also – and she is not averse to being his proof.
“I’m sorry. It’s... It’s been a while.”
She is teasing, but his shiver says it is no joke. “Something like that.”
Pausing in her ablutions, Diana leans over to brush her lips over his in her own silent apology.
They stand at the edge of the ocean, beneath an endless sky and an endless sea, and the sun blinding as it glitters off the waves.
Bucky doesn’t know what they’re looking for. What she’s looking for, because he doesn’t see anything, he doesn’t sense anything, and what would he know anyway? He chose to come with her more to get out of Wakanda than anything else – to get away from the last seventy years.
With his toes in the surf, his boots back on the sand, Bucky supposes they’ll need a Plan B.
Then he sees the boat.
Once in nine and ninety years, said the parchment Diana found, the barrier thins, and if you know where it may be found, you may discover Amazonis.
‘Amazonis’ is sometimes held to be a bastardisation of ‘Atlantis’, but Diana knows better. Diana has experienced better. And while her mother decreed Diana could never come back, the mercy of mothers is legendary for a reason, is it not?
Is it fate that the nine and ninety years has come now, when James Buchanan Barnes should need sanctuary from his demons? Is it fate that Diana should have known him intimately, and judged him worth the saving?
Standing at the edge of the ocean, watching the boat skimming the waves, Menalippe’s dark head at the helm, Diana thinks it appropriate that this time Themiscyra receive a man seeking peace, instead of one inadvertantly bringing war.
She reaches back for James, holding out her hand, offering him the choice.
Cool metal closes gently around her fingers and they watch the boat come in.