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Land of the Free

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Wakanda — Present Day

Steve was two months into helping out a remote village at the northern edge of Wakanda’s territories when Nakia, T’challa’s favorite of the warrior women, arrived at his doorstep. It was a modest hut, his quarters, with a single plain cot in one corner. The sheets were threadbare and the floor yellow dirt, all the signs of an impoverished area except for the paper-thin plasma display monitors mounted on one wall. The family he lived with had refused to leave him without at least a bit of Wakanda’s rich resources. Steve didn't particularly want or need the high tech gadgets, but he didn’t want to offend them, and so the screens stayed.

It had been hard, accepting Bucky’s choice to go back under, but he understood the necessity. Steve was willing to wait for the day Bucky’s physicians figured out the safest way to end the Winter Soldier programming and clear him for normal human interactions.

In the meantime, he had busied himself getting to know the people of Wakanda, learning their culture, and offering assistance wherever it was needed. In the first couple of weeks, T’challa, greatly amused by all this, had left Steve to his own devices. He only had to intervene when Steve got abducted by a female tribal warrior looking for a new husband. After that wild debacle, he mostly stayed in the tamer side of Wakanda.

“Nakia,” He greeted when the door creaked open to reveal the beautiful woman standing on the other side.

She took in his thick beard and disheveled hair and lifted a silent brow.

“Is something wrong?” Steve asked, mind already leaping to the man lying helpless in a cryo-pod in the heart of Wakanda’s best research lab. His fists clenched.

“Not exactly,” Nakia bit her lip before adding, “your friend is fine, ikhapteni, but you need to come with me. Our king insists.”

“Steve, not ‘captain’,” He reminded for the thousandth time, pulling out one of the prepackaged knapsacks out from under the bed and tossing it over one broad shoulder.

“You have been learning Xhosa in your free time,” Nakia sounded subtly impressed. Steve shut the door dutifully behind himself, not bothering to lock it. He had nothing of value beside two extra sets of clothes and some trinkets the local children had gifted him.

“The kids are excellent teachers,” Steve smiled briefly, “I teach them English in exchange. Where to, Nakia?”

“Why are you so determined to punish yourself?" Sighing, she shook her head. The air in front of them shifted as the ship de-cloaked itself.

“I don’t know what you are talking about,” Steve replied mildly, following her up the steps.

-

The first thing he heard was the sound of a woman’s sobbing screams. Then, the cryo-chamber doors hissed open and the straps holding the Winter Soldier snapped and Bucky Barnes fell forward. He automatically braced himself for the impact, and to Bucky fascination, there were two responsive and functioning limbs instead of one.

He held up his new arm, dark gray with a curious gold material lining the musculature. It was quite pretty. And shiny, very shiny.

Bucky looked up sharply when he heard more screaming, and five feet away, the orange rock suspended in the pillar of light was giving off angry pulses like a heartbeat. The commotion was coming from a shimmery blue portal, from which women and children wearing medieval Shakespearean clothes were stumbling out, faces chalky pale and tears running down their faces. He and Steve had seen one of those, Macbeth or something, down at one of the Broadway theaters before the war. It felt like a life time ago.

He shot to his feet when one of the women, heavily pregnant, crumpled as her legs gave out beneath her. Bucky caught the lady before she met the floor. He spun them around to shield her from the worst of the sparks that had suddenly exploded from the light fixture over their heads. The surge of power was probably what had roused him from the cryo-pod.

“Our princes,” She sobbed, clutching hysterically at Bucky’s shirt, “you must help them!”

“What princess?” He asked, completely lost.

But by that time, Wakandan researchers were flocking into the destroyed lab, closely followed by their leader. T’Challa’s eyes widened when they met his over the heads of the distressed people filling the halls. Bucky tried to convey his bewilderment with a shrug, his arms still full of the pregnant woman.

The portal fizzed, and with it, the last of the bizarrely-dressed people trickled out. It was a man and a woman, but she was barely holding him upright. Blood dripped down between the fingers pressed to the wound on his abdomen. His head lolled and T’Challa closed the distance between them with three quick strides, taking the brunt of the man's weight from the dark-haired woman. Something clattered to the ground and Bucky’s eyes landed on the hilt of what was once a beautifully-crafted broadsword. The blade was no longer intact.

She fell to her knees, colorless lips parting to whisper-

“Thanos.”

 


 Outer Space — Present Day

“Peter, that was not necessary,” Gamora’s quiet disapproval was only making him more annoyed.

“He’s not my father,” Peter muttered, crossing his arms.

“Stakar Ogord meant well,” She pointed out, taking a seat next to him. “He was only trying to watch out for you.”

“Well, I don’t need it,” He snapped, breathing hard. “Who does he think he is? Ordering me around like he’s my old man and throwing Yondu’s name around like that. He’s an asshole, that’s what he is-”

His voice cracked. Gamora carefully laid a hand over his knee as Peter scrubbed furiously at his watering eyes.

“Yondu died thinking they hated his guts,” he muttered angrily. “He had no right to bring up my old man.”

“Peter, Stakar was the one who rescued Yondu from slavery,” Gamora reminded gently. “besides, we follow you, remember, captain? Not him.”

That made Peter smile a little, and Gamora rolled her eyes when he puffed up his chest and repeated the word, but her expression remained affectionate despite the childish preening.

“Peter…” She started, but was rudely interrupted by the sudden appearance of Rocket and Mantis.

“Are you two done sucking faces?” The rodent demanded waspishly, “if so, I need a fucking pee break from the con. Quill, you’re up. Get your fat ass in the pilot chair.”

“Sucking faces?” Mantis asked, puzzled. “Were you kissing? I feel sexual energy in here.”

"We were only talking, Mantis," Gamora gave Peter a warning look that he promptly ignored. 

“Guess what, it's from Groot’s room,” He leaned in to whisper gleefully, ignoring Rocket’s groan of disgust, “he’s probably jacking off, what with being a teenager and all.”

“You’re repulsive, Quill,” Rocket said, kicking him sharply in the knee. “Kid’s a tree.”

“What is ‘jacking off?’” Mantis blinked.

“You see, when you reach puberty-” Gamora’s fingers found their way around Peter’s left ear and twisted painfully. He gritted his teeth, “-you find the urge to get more sleep. It means 'to rest,' Mantis. Please let go, Gamora, I happen to be very fond of my left ear.”

“Oh,” Her antenna perked up, then, turning to Rocket, she said generously, “you look exhausted, Rocket, you should go jack off.”

Peter choked on the laughter bubbling up from his chest.

“Wow, Quill. There’s a special place in Hell for people like you,” Rocket said blandly.

“Idiot,” Gamora sent him out of the room with a stinging slap to the back of the head. Still chuckling under his breath, Peter ambled into the control room where Drax was standing over the blinking console.

“You left Drax to man the con?” Peter hollered, “Rocket, are you actively trying to kill us?”

“He’s less stupid than you, dickhead,” Came the quick reply.

Before Peter could generate an even better insult, something smacked into the windshield of the new Milano with a resounding thunk. Peter squinted, and for a moment, he could not believe his eyes.

It was an unconscious…man, blue-skinned with shoulder-length black hair.

“Yuck, get it off,” Rocket yelped from behind him, "I told you to fix the windshield wipers, turd-face!”

Another heavier thud, and Peter actually yelped this time, taking a step back as a second figure joined the first against their windshield.

Fair skin, short hair, and eyepatch this time.

“What the hell…” Peter muttered.

Beside him, Drax let out a booming laugh and slapped a meaty palm into Peter’s back.

“It’s raining men, Quill,” He bellowed, delighted, “just like your song said!”