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After the Storm (I Look Up)

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i. scared of what’s behind, and what’s before

There’s going to be a wedding in Birin Zana. Bucky hears about it while Steve is away, in Syria or Yemen (Bucky knows he plans to move from one to the other, but when exactly the transfer will happen gets lost amidst messages that have to be decoded and long periods of radio silence). Shuri calls him to her lab and hands him a deactivated kimoyo bead so she can watch him test the dexterity of his new hand, and as he’s rolling the bead between his fingertips she asks if he wants to be her date.

“Why...I mean, thank you for the offer, I’m honored, but...why me?”

“Mama and my brother are part of the ceremony,” Shuri explains, nodding at Ramonda. The Queen Mother occasionally likes to come down to Shuri’s lab and see the results of her daughter’s efforts, and today she sits at the same table Bucky does, observing the exercise with a proud gleam in her eyes. “And besides, I want to see the new arm in civilian action.”

Bucky feels rather dubious about that, but he’s not about to say no to the architect of said new arm.

“It’s going to be a big deal,” Shuri continues blithely. “It’s for two of the Dora. Do you remember Ayo and Aneka?”

“...Vaguely.” He had only been quickly introduced to the Dora Milaje before he went into cryo, in case an emergency happened and he needed to wake up and interact with any of them. “Sorry.”

“Well, it’s their wedding,” Shuri goes on, not seeming to notice Bucky’s brief look of surprise over the prospect of two women marrying. “So probably the whole country is going to show up.”

“Perhaps even representatives from Jabariland, now that we are allies,” Ramonda says, looking pleased as punch over the son who had finally accomplished in a day what no king before him had been able to do in their entire lifetimes. She also doesn’t seem to notice the slight blanching of Bucky’s face when the size of guest list was mentioned.

“So there’s going to be plenty of people selling things on the street that I will want to see you pick up and manipulate.” Shuri waggles the fingers of her left hand at him. “Besides, you’ll have fun.” Her smile, if physically possible, brightens. “If Captain Rogers is back by then, maybe I can have two dates.”

Shuri,” Ramonda chides, although she smiles.

“What is the point of being a princess if I don’t have an entourage?” She winks at Bucky, and he flushes slightly as Ramonda scoffs. “And speaking of weddings,” she aims cheerfully at Bucky, “why aren’t you two married yet?”

The kimoyo bead clatters across the tabletop with a few very loud bounces.

Shuri,” Ramonda scolds, more genuine this time, catching the bead before it can roll off the table.

“I’m only curious!” Shuri pouts. “I just would’ve thought that you would’ve been married already,” she directs at Bucky.

Bucky, to his relief, had gotten out all his heavy breaths and spluttering sounds whilst mother and daughter quibbled, so he only stammers a little bit when he answers.

“Well we...’cause we couldn’t, I guess.”

“You couldn’t?” Ramonda says, frowning.

“Well it wasn’t...legal for us, back in the 30s-40s.”

Shuri huffs contemptuously and rolls her eyes. “Well it is legal here, just so you know.”

“Yeah, I...I kinda put that together, what with...” He gestures at her clumsily. “Yeah.”

“...Are you not interested in being married?” Shuri asks, and Ramonda sighs the sigh of the long-suffering.

“No,” Bucky says, a tad hastily, “no, it’s not that, it’s...”

Shuri tilts her head at him, and maybe not fully consciously he flexes his metal hand. After a moment, when he realizes what he’s doing, he balls it into a fist, drags it across the table, and sets it in his lap, hidden from view.

“You know,” Ramonda says, after a beat of silence, “my husband never told me that he killed his brother. He kept that truth from me unto his last day. I did not find out until my nephew suddenly appeared, to try to steal the throne from my son.”

She stops almost abruptly, her gaze focusing on something terrible, far away. Instinctively Bucky reaches out to touch her arm; he thinks better of it almost immediately, and brings his hand down to the table.

She looks down at it first, and after a moment, almost smirks. It’s when she pats it briefly, quickly, with her fingertips that he realizes it’s his metal hand that he reached out with.

“But I still love my husband.”

“She speaks to Baba every day,” Shuri adds helpfully, a wistful shadow of a smile on her lips. “Whether through the shaman or not.”

“I have forgiven him everything,” Ramonda continues. “And if I could bring him back, I would, in less than a heartbeat.”

Bucky bobs his head slowly. Ramonda raises her eyebrow and her hand, the bead pinched between her thumb and forefinger, and he holds his metal palm out for her to set it down in.

“Captain Rogers, I understand, knows all your secrets. Every bad thing you’ve ever done, whether it was of your own volition or not.”

“Knows ‘em better than I do, probably,” Bucky says with a weak laugh, curling his fingers so he pulls the bead up into them.

“And he has clearly forgiven you them all, if he felt the need to forgive to begin with. He has stayed with you. Well,” she huffs and glances around to note Steve’s absence, drawing a bleakly amused expression out of Bucky.

“He always comes back to you, at least,” Shuri salvages.

“What can I say, I’m irresistible,” Bucky tries to joke, but the way his gaze stays glued to the table sucks the deflection out of it.

Shuri rolls her eyes anyway and leans across the table to punch his arm.

“So are you going to be my date or not?”

“Huh? Oh. If, um...yeah. If you want me to.”

“Well, it is why I asked,” Shuri teases, and she winks at him again, her grin almost sparkling. “That’s how you get the things you want.”

*

ii. and love will not break your heart, but dismiss your fears

Steve is in Yemen by the time Ayo and Aneka are married. Bucky knows because he’s able to talk to Steve late that night, after he’s come back from the wedding and Steve’s found a relatively safe area to hunker down until daylight.

It’s not the first thing they talk about, though.

“Buck, I heard, were you okay?”

There’d been a mudslide a week ago near the village Bucky is staying in, because no matter how astounding Wakanda’s technology is, Shuri has yet to find a way to control the weather. Sudden storms, flash floods, and minor avalanches are common this time of year, especially in the more rural areas.

T’Challa had told Steve about it first, when Steve called to arrange a border crossing back into Wakanda within the next twenty-four hours. He transferred communication to Bucky very soon after.

“I was fine,” Bucky says, smiling, but he looks drained at the memory of it, and his eyes are tired. “Mud only came up to my shins. I can powerwalk through that. I was okay.”

“T’Challa said...” that Bucky had crawled through the wet dirt on his hands and knees as the sky poured torrents over him, throwing giant handfuls of mud aside, because he was so sure this is where Lindiwe would have ended up, based on where she disappeared from view, and how fast and in which direction the soil had been moving.

There’s a long quiet as Bucky tries to gather himself, remembering Lindiwe’s huge gasp of air as he scooped mud out of her airways with a metal finger, and how much it forcibly reminded him of Steve struggling to breathe around an asthma cigarette eighty years ago.

There’s a pin on his shawl, crafted from recently-bought Jabari wood by Lindiwe’s father to be in the shape of a golden wolf’s head. “A guardian to wayward pups,” Sipho had said the animal represented, when he set the pin in Bucky’s left hand and insisted he take it; that it was the least they could do for him for saving Lindiwe from being buried alive. Bucky fiddles with it now.

“The kids here are killing me, Steve. Climbing all over shit they shouldn’t be climbing.”

“Yeah, kids do that,” Steve laughs, as Bucky sits on the ground, tucking his legs underneath him. “I think that’s kind of an everywhere thing.”

“Is it an everywhere thing for a couple six-year-old boys to ride a rhino like it was a goddamn pony?”

“No, but it should be.”

“You would say that, you ass.” Bucky makes a face at him. “I’m surrounded by a bunch of tiny Steves.”

Steve laughs, and he settles his palm on the little hologram of Bucky’s face projecting up from his wrist. Lack of weather control aside, Wakanda’s technology is truly a marvel, because Bucky can feel the warmth of Steve’s hand on his face as he does so. It’s no substitute for the real thing, but it’s something to lean against in the meantime.

“Good thing they got you to help look after ‘em, then.”

Bucky tilts his head back, blinking up at the sky.

“I can really only do that if they stick close to me, y’know.”

Steve presses his lips together in a weak line. “Gotta go out into the world every once in awhile.”

“Yeah,” Bucky sighs, rolling his eyes as he lowers his head again. His stomach is suddenly tied up with strands of nerves, the knots tightening every time he thinks about speaking. He’s got a bit of a tell, though, one that he fell out of practice hiding post-Hydra, so Steve can see it the purse of his lips, the flick of his eyes.

“Buck?”

His metals fingers twitch, and curl around the pin, clutch at it, just like flesh fingers would.

“Hey...”

“I’m gonna be out there with you some day,” Bucky says, lips numb, unable to lift his gaze from where it’s trained on the floor. “When I’m, when I can...”

“I know you will, Buck,” Steve says, soft, fond. “You can’t let anyone go unprotected for too long. ‘S’not in your nature.”

Steve’s tried to convince him of that many times (“That’s why Hydra went for you, Buck; if they could get you to believe in them, that they were doing the right thing for people, then...”) and he clings desperately to it, even when his heart refuses to accept it as anything more than wishful thinking. Bucky bites his lower lip and forces himself to not get derailed.

“‘Til then though, until...” He tosses his head, rolling his eyes at himself. “I know it’s selfish, it’s so fucking selfish, Steve, but...”

“But?”

Bucky squirms, and tries to reconfigure his expression; anything to make it seem like even he himself finds the request unreasonable. He fails, miserably.

“Steve, you know how...d’you remember...didn’t someone, there was someone who used to call you sunshine boy.”

“Y-yeah,” Steve says, when he works up the ability to respond to that. “My mother. My mother did.”

“It was, it was apt; she was a smart lady.” Bucky rakes his metal hand through the hair at the side of his neck. He can feel the warmth radiating off his skin. “‘Cause things’re...everything just gets darker, when you’re not there.”

Steve stares at him, through him, for what feels like a long time, before he looks away. Bucky’s hands ball up against his thighs and he tries to breathe.

He needs to think about it, Bucky tells himself, and that’s fine. That’s fair. Bucky took two whole years to think about it, to struggle with the idea of deserving to live in Steve’s light. If Steve hadn’t found him in Romania, he probably still would be.

“Tell me about this wedding you went to, Buck.”

“I’m sorry?”

Steve’s looking at him again, and the glint in his eyes has changed. Bucky’s still got holes in his memory big enough to drive trucks through—brains are harder to fix than arms are to replace, even in Wakanda—but he’s sure he’s never in his life seen Steve look so satisfied.

“Tell me about how people get married in Wakanda.”

*

iii. we stood tall, and remembered our own land

“Are there rules?”

“How do you mean?”

“What do we have to do in order to be, ah...legally married here?” Steve rephrases.

T’Challa looks somewhat puzzled for a moment, before he fully processes the question, and its implications.

“I am actually not sure,” he says. “You’re in a strange position. Quite literally, everything about your presence here is...unprecedented.”

“Is it...is it something we wouldn’t be able to do?”

“It is something we may have to institute a policy for.”

“We don’t...if it’s going to cause problems...” Bucky starts.

“No,” T’Challa says, waving a hand. “We are already...I’m sure you have heard from my sister, the Council is currently deliberating the best way to open the country to refugees. Once we do, those people will have births and marriages and funerals, the same as anyone else. We would already have had to find a way to accommodate that. You are merely speeding up the process.”

“Speeding up” is a subjective term. Weirdly enough, Bucky feels like he’s the more anxious and impatient of the two as the days pass with no news from the Council. Steve is keeping them occupied, taking Bucky visiting the other Avengers-in-exile. As he puts it, “They’re pretty much my family nowadays; you’ll basically be marrying into them.”

“I gotta make a better impression, you mean.”

“Well.” Steve has the grace to look flushed. “It wouldn’t hurt for you guys to be on friendlier terms, in any case.”

So Bucky apologizes to Natasha for shooting her.

“Twice.”

He apologizes to her again, and a third time, for choking her. She purses her lips to the side, shrugs, and that appears to be that.

He tries to apologize to Sam, too, for ripping the steering wheel out of his hands that one time. Sam sighs loudly, rolls his eyes, and waves it off, since “You jumped in front of that Spider-kid for me, so we’ll call it even.”

Sam cuts out of their meetings early sometimes, though, so he can call his sister; Scott also frequently takes the opportunity to excuse himself so he can tuck his daughter into bed from thousands of miles away. Like everything else from Wakanda, the communication lines established by spies are the best and most secure in the world, but Bucky well knows that they can’t replace having the real thing nearby.

Steve tells him it’s not Bucky’s fault that they’re stuck here, and intellectually Bucky knows it’s not as well, but that doesn’t help the layer of guilt that takes up residence in the bottom part of his stomach.

The Bartons, at least, seem to be taking everything in an almost inhuman stride. Bucky supposes that’s what happens when you rehab the Black Widow, or maybe they were just that kind of people to begin with. Clint credits his circus background as to why he’s used to pulling up stakes and moving on once a show’s over. And it helps that the kids are still young and were home-schooled anyway, so there isn’t too much for them to miss about their old life. Lila especially is also in the business of climbing all over shit she oughtn’t be climbing—such as Bucky himself—so she gets along with Wakandan children like a house on fire, much to the adults’ collective chagrin.

Wanda is the easiest to be around. Out of all of them, she had the least to lose by siding against Secretary Ross, and she also knows what it was like to be manipulated by Hydra, albeit in a much different way. It’s also cute to see the fawn eyes she makes at Steve when he praises her during their training sessions, like the baby sister she naturally is; they’re currently working on a shield that she can project over her teammates, to protect them from any sort of firepower.

She’s brought up the possibility of helping Bucky’s errant memories come back, but Hydra had trained her to weaponize her powers; healing is a totally different animal. The thought of something going wrong with his brain, especially now, is enough for Bucky to hesitate on taking her up on the offer. She, graciously, accepts his deferral with no defensiveness, and doesn’t offer again.

They’re with Wanda and Laura, actually, having lunch in the courtyard of a cafe in Birin Zana, looking after Nathaniel while the older children are with their tutors and the other former-Avengers are in Myanmar—Bucky’d had a rough night, and Steve had declined to go with them, despite looking like he was chewing glass as he did so; Wanda also had not felt up to going along—when Shuri comes bounding up to the group, grinning.

“It’s not official until the start of next month,” she says, keeping her voice suitably conspiratorial, “but they’ve worked out a policy for non-citizens to get married here.”

Centuries of isolationism can’t be completely undone even by the lessons learned from the succession crisis. The Council does not particularly want Wakanda to become a tourist destination—not without good reason, the group of asylees sheepishly understand. Nevertheless, T’Challa’s humanitarian appeal hit its mark, and those with official protected status are to be granted a rather broad swathe of civil responsibilities and rights, including state recognition of new marriages.

“So how do we go about it?” Steve asks, unaware of how hard the giddy squeezing of his hand around Bucky’s is. “What would we, um, have to do?”

“Um~ I’m not really sure, just yet,” Shuri confesses. “What would normally happen is that the people who want to get married would go to the chief and declare their intention. I think in this case that would be my brother, for you two, since he brought you here. Then the chief would announce it publicly, so if anyone had an objection they could deal with it.”

“Is this a ritual combat sort of dealing with it?” Bucky asks.

“Of course,” Shuri says, with a solemn nod, before she bursts into giggles. “No. There’s combat sometimes, obviously, but it’s not ritual.”

“Sam would absolutely fight you for Steve,” Wanda teases under her breath.

“Yeah, I wish him luck with that,” Bucky deadpans back.

“After all that’s taken care of,” Shuri says, once the snickering dies down, “there would be a ceremony conducted by the chief and the shaman.” She nods at Bucky, to remind him of what he saw at Ayo and Aneka’s wedding. “We would hold it in front of the nearest shrine to Bast, but I am thinking that would not be your custom.”

“No, no it would not be,” Steve says, with a half-laugh that in no way belies his seriousness.

Shuri sets her chin in her hand, looking thoughtful. “You would do a lot of things differently from us, wouldn’t you?”

“I hope that’s not a problem,” Steve says, with the lightest touch of steel in his voice. Bucky twitches his hand in Steve’s, warning him to listen first, but promising him support if Shuri’s answer is unfavorable.

Shuri shrugs. “For the Jabari their Hanuman; for the Wakandans our Bast,” she recites, sitting back in her chair. “And for you, your...” She contemplates the middle distance for a moment, and then wrinkles her nose. “I skipped Global Sociology class that day.”

Steve snorts.

“So anyway, after the ceremony you guys and T’Challa and some witnesses would scan your fingerprints and send them to the capitol so it can be recorded that oh yeah, there was a wedding today, woohoo!” She waves her hands in a muted cheer routine. “Then there’s blessings, and a big party, and...well, that’s it, about. That’s how we do it. I can’t imagine it’d go too differently for you two.”

“You sure your brother is going to...” Bucky starts, half-frowning. “I mean, he’s running a whole country. And we’re not...Dora, or anything like that.” T’Challa had presided over Ayo and Aneka’s wedding, but those women guarded his and his family’s lives; Bucky supposes it was only appropriate, maybe traditional, that he did so.

Shuri gives them a meaningful look, and leans forward to talk in an appropriately circumspect volume. “The village you are staying in is Border Tribe. T’Challa will want to be there to...reaffirm diplomatic relations.”

There’s noises to the effect of “oh...” and Shuri settles back down in her chair. With W’Kabi and his unit currently imprisoned, a new order had been formed out of the Border Tribe civilians who had not participated in the rebellion; tensions have not been particularly high, but good feeling remains tenuous. T’Challa’s presence, leading a wedding for foreigners so the new chief would not have to, would be equal parts power play and goodwill gesture.

“It is the king’s duty to preside over weddings between people from different tribes, anyway,” Shuri continues, in a normal tone of voice.

“So, for any problem wedding,” Wanda surmises.

Shuri nods, and smiles. “And it’s his privilege to do it for his friends, too. So I do not think my brother will object.”

“I wonder if...” Laura starts, tapping her chin with her finger. “Well,” she continues, once she has everyone’s attention, “I wonder if we could take some of the burden off His Majesty’s hands. What I mean is, he won’t be familiar with our, um...customs.” She gestures to herself and Steve, catching Wanda’s eye peripherally. “If he has to preside, or he wants to, then of course, but putting together the actual ceremony...that could lie with us.”

“...Well I don’t see a problem with that,” Shuri says, leaning forward again and swiping a slice of roasted safou off Bucky’s plate. “And I could help you out with anything that requires a Wakandan touch.” She taps the safou on Bucky’s left hand, and then pops the fruit into her mouth with a wink.

“All this assuming that you two do not want to just...go down to the courthouse, of course,” Wanda muses.

“Why would they do that?” Shuri asks around her half-chewed snack, frowning. “Getting married isn’t a crime.”

“...well.” Wanda flicks her eyebrows. “That settles that, I suppose.”

“We’ll, um...I mean we’ll have to talk about it, what it is we want this to...” Steve trails off, glancing sideways at Bucky. “We didn’t wanna make any plans until we knew for sure it’d be something we could do.”

“Well, I will be happy to help any way you want,” Laura says; Nathaniel has toddled close to her, and she pulls him into her lap.

“Yeah?”

Laura nods. “I helped one of my cousins put together her wedding a couple weeks before...well, all this.” She circles a finger in the air, and quirks a half-smile. “It’ll be fun. Having a project.”

“I would like to help, too,” Wanda says, a little pink-cheeked as she raises her hand to shoulder level. “If you want me to.”

Wanda is in a similar boat as them, Bucky thinks. Family stripped away by death, rather than distance; less than no hope of seeing them again, in this life at least. Steve is the only brother whose wedding she’ll be able to participate in, at least until the Barton kids are grown (Sam greeted the news of their engagement by commenting that he isn’t the marrying type, himself).

“We’ll let you know,” Bucky says, sounding assured of the fact that there will be something for her to do.

The slight pinch of Steve’s fingers in his tells him that Steve is keeping his own counsel for now.

The temple Steve touches to his shoulder tells him not to worry about that fact too much.

*

iv. you must know life to see decay

“So you want, like, a wedding wedding, Buck?”

Bucky tilts his head back, submerging more of his hair and some of the inner shell of his ear, and considers the world and the question upside-down. The lake by their village narrows the deeper it recedes into the surrounding forest, becoming less and less attractive to all but daredevil kids like Lindiwe and her brothers, and their mother called them to help her make dinner several minutes ago. There’s a rough triangle in the water, delineated by two monsoon-felled saplings; a space big enough to hold two supersoldier bodies if one sits across the other’s lap. It’s a good spot to find peace, or at the very least, quiet.

“You don’t?” Bucky asks, lifting his head again.

“I’m not opposed to one,” Steve says, plastering a wet strand of Bucky’s hair against his neck, and peeling it free slowly. “I just...wasn’t thinking you’d want a big to-do.”

Bucky shifts, minutely stretching out his back; as much as he likes the position he’s in, it gets a bit crampy. Steve adjusts his arm, and props up one of his knees, to better support the new stance.

“Well it could be nice, y’know?” Bucky says, suddenly a tad sheepish. “To not...downplay the momentousness of the occasion.”

“You always did like being the center of attention,” Steve allows.

Bucky splutters for dramatic effect, before blowing a loud, somewhat cross-eyed raspberry.

“Oh yeah, Steve. Absolutely. My CO was the lovechild of Adonis and Hercules wearing a flag costume with a giant white star smack-dab in the middle of his chest, but I’m the one who wanted to be the center of attention.”

“Hey.” Steve raises an admonishing finger. “I only kept that uniform because you asked me to.”

“You coulda said no,” Bucky parries, and he turns, letting the water support him as he stretches out lengthwise, balancing with his hands on Steve’s thighs, his toes grazing the riverbed.

“What, and deny you the obvious joy you got out of seeing me all gussied up?” Steve asks as Bucky resettles. “What kind of man do you take me for?”

“Hmmm.” Bucky casts his gaze side to side, and purses his lips. “Mine?”

Steve rolls his eyes and flicks Bucky’s forehead, before leaning forward to kiss the same spot. “Well, you’re not wrong.”

Bucky pushes up, straining his neck to give Steve a proper kiss.

“Doesn’t mean we have to do everything that pops into my head, though,” he says, once he half-sinks back down. “Even though it’s always objectively a good idea.”

“Oh, yeah, always.”

“I mean, I guess it’s your wedding too or something; I suppose you deserve to have like 30% of a say in it.”

“Shit, Buck, if anyone deserves whatever they want...”

Bucky looks away abruptly. He shifts when Steve does, both trying to reposition the sudden discomfort away, before he decides that pushing a small splash of water against Steve’s chest without making eye contact is the best response to that.

“Like I said, I’m not against that idea,” Steve says, drawing loose infinity signs with a fingertip on the surface of the lake. “I mean, the last wedding I went to, I think my mother was still alive, so it’s been awhile, but I remember...you know, I liked it, I liked the whole...” He gesticulates a little, and Bucky nods his permission for Steve to move on without finding words. “I just figured that if it’s an actual, y’know, ceremony, that...implies guests, and...”

That potentially means a crowd Bucky has to stand in front of but not pay attention to, people watching him, and...

Bucky tilts his head diagonally heavenwards and squares his shoulders. Everyone in this country, he’s reminded himself almost every waking day, often more than once, since T’Challa brought them here, is the wrong color to be Hydra, and the wrong philosophy to boot.

“Y’know that wedding I went to with Shuri, it...it was really somethin’, Steve. It was a huge goddamn deal. The crowds were nuts.”

“And you were okay with that?”

“What, with thousands of people around me all carrying spears? It wasn’t the most comfortable of situations for me, but I managed.” He even smiles, to show he’s not lying.

“Why were thousands of people carrying spears?”

“Show of support.”

Steve cocks an eyebrow. “Explain.”

“So the, the brides were both Dora, right?” Steve nods. “So...Shuri told me it’s part of the, um, the tradition that they bring their weapons with them. To, uh, to highlight their...God, what’s the word...prowess, I think is the word I’m looking for?”

Steve nods again.

“And to kinda say that, y’know. Look, I’m prepared. I’m going to protect you from now on.

“Mhm?”

“And everyone else had them to...show solidarity, I guess. That...like they were saying You won’t go it alone. We’re going to look out for you, too.

“That sounds really cool,” Steve says, finally letting himself smile now that he knows Bucky had been in no danger.

“It was. It was...”

“...Buck?”

Bucky reaches for a nearby lily pad to fiddle with, and doesn’t look up.

“I didn’t really...I didn’t talk to a lot of people, when I was in Romania. Or before that. Avoided it.”

Steve nods, and swallows down his sorrow over that; he can only imagine how bone-deep wrong it must have felt for a social butterfly like Bucky to take refuge in isolation, however necessary he figured it was.

“And I know they’re...your friends are your friends, they’re not mine, but—” Steve’s face twists, and Bucky cuts him off, “I mean, I wanna see people show up for you. Make a big deal out of you. God knows if anyone...fucking...deserves anything, then it’s—”

Steve slides a hand through Bucky’s hair along the part, forehead to nape, and drags him forward into a kiss that would be crushing if it weren’t so bittersweet. Bucky kisses back, fierce at first, then just heavy; so engrossing that it doesn’t break until Steve starts flailing because he’s been pushed further down into the water under Bucky’s weight and the surface is lapping against his face, dangerously close to flooding his nose.

“All right,” Steve says, once Bucky lifts his face away. “A big to-do it is, then.”

Bucky thinks he sees a glint in Steve’s eye, one that signifies a strategy being worked out, but Steve takes a deep breath, shuts his eyes, and ducks under the surface before Bucky has much time to contemplate it. When he comes back up he spits a stream in Bucky’s face, and Bucky files his musings away in favor of dumping two huge handfuls of water over Steve’s, and steeling himself for the retribution.

*

v. grace in your heart and flowers in your hair

“Shuri told me I’m not supposed see you before the ceremony,” Steve whispers not long after Bucky wakes up, lips ghosting over the shell of Bucky’s ear as he talks, his arm slung across Bucky’s chest.

“I disagree,” Bucky murmurs sleepily into the mat underneath them, clinging tightly to Steve’s arm. It had been rough going, falling asleep last night knowing what the next day would hold. Thankfully the wedding was scheduled for late in the day, per Wakandan custom.

“I disagree, too.” Steve noses a hank of Bucky’s hair out of the way so he can kiss his fiancé’s neck. Bucky squirms, and stretches, and rolls over so he can nuzzle Steve’s face and plant slow, small kisses along his cheekbones.

Steve lets himself be thus distracted for a good handful of minutes before he sits up. Bucky whines, but takes the hands that Steve holds out for him and allows himself to be drawn upright; he’s rewarded with the return of languid kisses dotted across his face.

“But - the princess - will kill me - if I ruin - the procession she has planned for you,” Steve finishes in a rush.

“The what now?” Bucky mumbles against Steve’s face, more alert now, but only just.

“Oh, yeah, surprise. Shuri’s gonna...process you up the aisle.” He makes sure the air quotes are heard in his voice, as his hands are too busy massaging the back of Bucky’s neck.

“Why’s she gonna do that?”

“She thought it’d be nice,” Steve says into Bucky’s pulse point, and Bucky feels the barest twitch of a smile that tells him that Steve either brought the idea up with Shuri himself, or at the very least discussed it with her.

“And you can’t be part of it?” Bucky asks in one breath, slipping his hands up into Steve’s hair.

“I think she likes the idea of presenting you to me,” Steve says, tucking his head under Bucky’s chin and sucking lightly at his neck. “Truth be told, I’m, uh...I’m kind of enamored of the idea, myself.”

Enamored. First an artist, now a poet.” Steve reaches down to pinch Bucky’s side; Bucky winces mightily and swats his hand away. “Okay, okay...”

He pulls back and nudges Steve’s forehead with his own, urging him to look up, into Bucky’s eyes.

“I’ll come to you, this time.”

Steve all but surges up to kiss him, wrapping Bucky’s hair around his fingers and squeezing. There’s a gripping pain in his chest, his heart’s fear that Bucky is going to fade away under his hands like he has in so many of his nightmares; it eases, just enough, when Bucky puts his arms around Steve in turn, fingertips running up and down his spine into gentle, elongated ovals.

It can never go away fully, Steve reminds himself. He can never convince himself to take Bucky’s presence for granted ever again.

A beeping sound from one of their communicators informs them that Shuri’s left a message, which turns out to be the news that she and “her entourage” (they presume this means her family and possibly a Dora or two) are heading over. Steve, reluctantly, lets Bucky go long enough for them to get cleaned up. It’s something of a relief when they settle into toasty post-shower bliss, especially since it’s still early afternoon and Shuri takes her time getting to them, but it still feels unsatisfactorily short-lived when she knocks on the door.

Shuri’s cheery greeting is lost in how striking she looks; her cheeks and forehead elegantly painted with white lines; her dress hung with strings, and patterned with diamond shapes, of brightly-hued beads in red and green, blue and yellow, orange and black. A golden staff, more akin to a shepherd’s rook than a warrior’s spear, rests in her left hand; a thick briefcase is carried in her right.

“Shuri, holy crap.”

“I know, right?” Shuri preens, as both men mumble further compliments. “Mama and my brother are busy schmoozing,” she continues, raising the briefcase and brandishing is, “but I need to give this to you before the ceremony.”

She sets the staff and case down, and then opens the case and turns it so they can see its contents.

“What’s wrong with—” Bucky starts, before he thinks better of it. “I mean, thank you, Shuri, it looks amazing, but why a new arm?”

“You’ll~ see~” Shuri drawls. “Here, change into the thing so I can put this on you.”

The “thing” being a shawl-tunic hybrid that leaves ample space for work to be done, Shuri steps out of the room for modesty’s sake, returning when called. It’s a quick replacement, merely removing the old one and fitting the new into the same socket, but once it’s in place Shuri demands Bucky look away and cover his eyes.

“How come?”

“You will see. later.

“All right, all right...”

“Captain Rogers, if you’d do the honors...”

Bucky is good and doesn’t peek, but he does freeze a little when he feels Steve fit a ring onto the fourth finger of the new hand, and press down on it with his own index finger.

“Oh my God...Shuri, wow, this is...” Steve breathes, enraptured. “Thank you. Shuri, thank you.”

“Just glad it works,” Shuri says, like a peacock strutting. “You still can’t look,” she continues, tapping Bucky’s shoulder, “but move the arm around; let me see if it’s fully functional.”

After the arm has been raised, lowered, twisted, bent at the elbow, and swung around, and the fingers have drummed, curled, pinched, snapped, and spelled out the Wakandan Sign Language alphabet, Shuri announces it an unqualified success, and instructs Steve to “Take it off before he sees.”

It’s weirdly upsetting to feel Steve take the ring off his finger, considering it’s going right back on in a few hours. Steve sees the downward quirk of Bucky’s lips, and very quickly pecks it away with his own.

“Now what on earth are you still doing here, Captain Rogers?” Shuri demands, hands on her hips, once Bucky takes his flesh hand away from his face and blinks his eyes open.

“I need to see what he looks like before the ceremony,” Steve insists, a bit of the shit-eating present in his grin, as Bucky rolls his eyes. “I have to make sure you don’t try to trick me; show up to the wedding with someone else who looks like him.”

Shuri raises an eyebrow almost into her hairline. “How many white boys with metal arms do you think are in this country?”

“It’s tradition, your Highness.”

Shuri gives him an unimpressed look, but flounces out the front door nevertheless with a dramatic sigh and an even more dramatic roll of her eyes.

“You just want another striptease, you pervert,” Bucky mutters, as soon as the princess is out of earshot.

Steve shrugs hugely, barely suppressing a grin. Bucky sticks his tongue out, and makes sure to change as sexlessly as possible.

It doesn’t stop Steve from watching him like he’s the night sky, and after he’s fully dressed, like the whole of the Milky Way is stretched out within arm’s reach. Wakandan wedding colors, they found out, tend towards animal print or geometric designs rendered in the tribe’s emblematic color, which made the white robes Bucky had chosen for them cheaper than they otherwise might have been, but for all that Bucky could look no less regal in his than any royalty in the world.

Steve catches his hand before he can put on the finishing touch, a circlet of white blossoms preserved by some Wakandan magic-technology to remain fresh and soft forever. He takes it instead with both hands, almost reverent, and Bucky leans forward so Steve can fit it around the crown of his head. His fingertips stroke the sides of Bucky’s face as he brings his hands down, and Bucky catches them before they can fall to his sides, and grazes kisses across Steve’s knuckles.

“Knock knock; hope you’re decent,” someone says, and both men look up as Sam steps cautiously inside.

“Sam, hey,” Steve greets, while Bucky makes a somewhat cautious noise.

“I was instructed by the princess,” Sam taps the communication device on his wrist, “to come fetch my pet white man.”

Steve heaves a sigh whose theatricality doesn’t quite cover his reluctance.

“All your stuff’s at my place anyway,” Sam points out. “Unless you wanna go to your own wedding looking like that.”

Fine...” Steve whines, unceremoniously flipping Sam off regardless, and sending an unplanned sideways glance at Bucky at the same time.

“Go.” Bucky lightly punches Steve’s arm, pushing until Steve stands up. “I’ll be there soon. Promise.”

Sam pretends to gag as Steve and Bucky kiss good-bye, earning himself another middle finger, a longer wait, and a slap upside the head when Steve finally passes by him to step outside. Bucky watches him go, and is about to look away when he catches Sam jerking his head, to get his attention.

“You look good, man.”

Bucky quirks a half-smile at him. “Thanks.”

Sam purses his lips and nods back, tapping his palm awkwardly on the doorpost before resting it there, just long enough for Bucky to see a henna tattoo in the shape of his wolf pin drawn on the back of Sam’s hand.

He leaves before Bucky can say anything, and Bucky figures Sam still probably doesn’t like him enough to call out after him, even if he hadn’t found himself suddenly unable to speak.

*

vi. what we live for

Traditionally, weddings in Wakanda begin at sunset, when the sky melts into soft oranges and pinks, rich and sweet as sorbet, as the sun descends below the horizon, the stars appearing slowly like an infant blinking peacefully awake as the colors of day slip into dark blue. Even more than the sunrise, Ramonda had mused in Bucky’s presence once, the sunsets here feel like beginnings.

“Are you ready?” Shuri asks, holding her hand out to Bucky.

Yes, since he was a kid. No, he never will be.

Bucky lays the metal hand in her palm as he stands from his chair, and her face crinkles delightedly. She pulls him so they’re standing side-by-side, and loops their arms through each other’s.

The minute she sets her hand atop his he’s struck with such a powerful vision of Rebecca that he almost stumbles, and he has to blink back stinging tears lest they cast a pall over the night before it’s even properly begun.

“Phambili!” Shuri calls through the doorway, a loud but dulcet whoop.

“Phambili!” choruses back to her much louder than Bucky anticipated, and Lindiwe and her brothers rush inside. He barely has time to splutter out a confused greeting before Lindiwe grabs his free hand and starts tugging. Ayanda and Thabo, for their part, run behind him to put their hands on the small of his back and push, all three children taking big steps to match Shuri’s naturally longer stride as she leads Bucky out the door.

It’s considerably more than the handful of people Bucky had allowed himself to hope for: definitely not the whole village, but a sizable handful, all dressed in their finest and most festive, all smiling broadly. There are people he recognizes as friends and relatives of Sipho and his wife Unathi; Lindiwe’s playmates accompanied by who must be their families; a handful of individuals that he had made friendly acquaintance with at the riverside or in the marketplace.

Lindiwe holds Bucky’s hand out, so Unathi can step forward and take his arm parallel to Shuri, and he finally notices that both of their hands are decorated the same way Sam’s had been.

Fuck, he will not cry; not yet.

Shuri pounds the base of her staff onto the packed earth twice and calls out again, this time in melody.

Igqirha lendlela / Nguqongqothwane...”

“Igqirha lendlela / Nguqongqothwane!” the entire crowd responds, fragmenting sweetly into harmony. “Igqirha lendlela / Nguqongqothwane.”

“Sebeqabele egqith' apha / Bathi nguqongqothwane!” Shuri sings out alone again, and the crowd begins forming a loose, bulky semi-circle as she and Unathi lead Bucky more fully away from the house.

“Sebeqabele egqith' apha / Bathi nguqongqothwane!” goes the response, more sure-footed in its harmony. “Sebeqabele egqith' apha / Bathi nguqongqothwane.”

“Igqirha lendlela...” Shuri begins again, and the people maintain a respectful but not great distance, as they escort Bucky down the path towards the plateau.

It’s not a long journey, but the pace is andante to the song’s beat, the whole crowd moving forward in tiny and alternating diagonal lines, strutting and swaying to the rhythm. Bucky warms on the inside, shy in his awkwardness, pleased when it feels like he’s falling into comfortable step with Shuri and Unathi, anxious and ecstatic that this is really happening, however different than the way he might have let himself imagine it back in the 30s.

He can all but feel Steve trying to stand still and patient as the procession makes its leisurely way to the chuppah under which he waits, T’Challa near him, next to Laura, and the other Avengers-in-exile surrounding them; the Queen Mother, guarded by Nakia and a member of the Dora Milaje, standing near to them with Noxolo, the new chief of the Border Tribe.

Shuri seems to be having fun drawing the procession out, the unrepentant little shit, or maybe this is standard for Wakandan weddings. Either way it seems to take forever until the exact moment Shuri sets Bucky’s left hand in Steve’s, and Steve brings him the last step up; until Steve passes in and out of Bucky’s sight as he circles around him quickly; until they’re suddenly face to face and Bucky feels the seconds begin running through his fingers like sand.

He clutches at Steve’s hands like he can still the time by doing so, and Steve clings back, reassuring. This will be over soon, but it will not leave them. This will pass into memory, and it’ll stay there.

“Marriage is as good,” T’Challa calls out, his voice a soothing, enrapturing roll of thunder over the crowd, “as honey to the throat, as linen to the body, as a seal-ring to a monarch’s finger. It is like a ripe pear in a person’s hand; it is like the dates we mix with wine; it is like the seeds a baker adds to bread. We have come here to see these men,” he rests a hand on Steve’s shoulder, and the other lands lightly on Bucky’s, “swear to be together until death comes. May the days in between be as food set before them: fruit and honey, bread and wine.”

“Kuya kuba njalo!” the crowd calls back, a wave rushing past their feet. It will be so, Shuri had told Bucky those words meant, when the people had chorused them for Ayo and Aneka. It will be so.

T’Challa steps elegantly back, allowing Laura to come forward, a raised cup in her right hand, an open binder in her left.

Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech Haolam borei p'ri hagafen.”

A few voices respond “Amen,” a soft breeze on a warm day; Steve tries to be one of them, but the breath that had gone missing ever since Bucky came into view has yet to return to him, and so it barely makes it out of his mouth as a whisper.

“Adonai, our God, look down from Your holy abode in Heaven, and bless these loving companions who are together creating a covenant of marriage. Blessed are you, Adonai, Who is good and does good.”

“Amen.”

Laura holds the cup out to Steve first, and he’s slow about letting go of Bucky’s hand to take it and drink from it. When he passes it to Bucky he makes sure to brush their fingers together.

Clint leans forward from his spot once Bucky is done, to take and bear the cup for the moment. He nudges Sam with his elbow once he settles back in place, and he nudges Clint back, a nonverbal I know as he steps forward, to hold up the small box Steve had entrusted him with.

Steve makes himself breathe now, deep and fortifying. He was never much good at reciting, but this is important; the most important. He worries the ring out of the cushioned slot, fingers shaking with terror that he could drop it or crush it; Bucky holds up his metal hand and ducks his head down, so Steve can see his face, draw strength from his smile, the way he always has.

“Buck,” Steve chokes out, and he has to swallow and breathe before he continues, “be for me my lifelong covenanted partner, and set me like a seal on your heart,” the ring slots into the groove Shuri had left on Bucky’s fourth finger, “like a seal on your arm...”

Steve presses his fingertip against the ring, and suddenly the lines running down Bucky’s entire arm light up in gold; Bucky’s face crumples, and Steve’s heart pounds in his chest as his throat knots up.

“...for love...my love...is as strong as death.”

Bucky’s breath hitches, and for all his efforts he finally can’t stop tears from escaping. Without thinking he pulls Steve’s hands up to wipe at his face, and in turn there’s a soft ripple of laughter from the people surrounding them that laps at the shore of his attention and gently urges him back towards functionality. He has to kiss Steve’s knuckles, and squeeze his hands, before he’s fully there, but he can turn on his own to take the second ring from Shuri as she holds it out to him, and he wipes his eyes with his own hand this time.

“Steve,” Bucky says, his voice a rasp but his words as gleaming crystal, “with this ring, I give you everything I am, and everything I'm going to be, for the rest of my life.”

The ring is at the base of Steve’s finger now, and Bucky folds Steve’s hand into both of his and raises it up, so Steve’s gaze has to follow until it’s caught by Bucky’s.

“I call you my beloved. I give you my devotion.”

The air around them hangs heavy and beautiful, dotted with stray tears and half-stifled sniffles; a quiet, high-voiced “Shit, man,” floats through the air courtesy of Scott, breaking the spell and pushing time forward again. Everyone laughs, even Steve and Bucky, and they lower their still-clinging hands as T’Challa reaches for a scroll left on the table near him. It snaps into stiffness as he unfurls it, still and firm in the wind as he reads it off.

“Let it be known that on the 15th day of Av in the year 5777, which is the 46th day of Akhet in the year 4907, in the village of Umda, in the country of Wakanda, Ariel ben Yosef, known as Steven Rogers, and James Barnes, by the exchange of rings, made this declaration: that their lives are mutually bound together; that they shall establish a household in common, with financial and moral responsibilities towards each other; that they shall cherish, respect, and sustain each other in righteousness and faithfulness; and that they shall nurture together the dignity of every human being. The witnesses, Kelila bat Adam, known as Laura Barton, and Nessa bat Sagi, known as Wanda Maximov, attest that this has been done in their presence, and is valid and effective.”

Laura signs first, when T’Challa holds it out to her, and presses a fingertip beside the line on which she puts her name, instantly recording her witness in the Hall of Vital Statistics in Birin Zana. Wanda follows, her hands shaking, but she pulls it off without error; she picks up the binder that Laura had set down, shuffles a half-step forward, coughs loudly to clear her throat, and wipes a tear from her eye.

“My beloved speaks and says to me, Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come with me; for lo, the winter is past—"

Bucky’s breath hitches, and he looks down at his hands, shaking but safe atop Steve’s.

—the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard throughout the land. The fig tree puts forth its early fruit, and the blossoming vines give forth their fragrance. Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come with me.

She nearly drops the binder as she closes it, and she hustles back to her original spot quickly, blushing as Steve smiles indulgently—gratefully; she had pointed that passage out to Steve while he was searching for a suitable vow, and offered to read it on his behalf—at her. Natasha pats Wanda’s back as she steps forward, tossing her hair out of her face; she inclines her head at Steve first, then at Bucky when he looks at her, and folds her hands in front of her, having elected to recite from memory.

“Yes, yours, my love, is the right human face. I in my mind had waited for this long; seeing the false and searching for the true, then found you as a traveler finds a place of welcome suddenly, amid the wrong valleys and rocks and twisting roads. But you...”

She raises her hands with an actress’s flair, as if she speaks with Bucky’s mind and not her own.

“What shall I call you? A fountain in a waste, a well of water in a country dry, or anything that's honest and good, an eye that makes the whole world seem bright. Your open heart, simple with giving, gives the primal deed, the first good world, the blossom, the blowing seed, the hearth, the steadfast land, the wandering sea. Not beautiful or rare in every part...”

She bites back a smile that yearns to tease her friend, in favor of one that shines with sincerity.

“...but like yourself: as they were meant to be.”

She steps back elegantly, and seems to leave some of her serenity with them, to quell their shaking. When Laura steps forward again with the second cup of wine to bless, the same handful of people answer “Amen,” but Steve can actually hear himself as one of them.

“Blessed are You, Adonai, our God, King of the universe, Who has created everything for Your glory.”

“Amen.”

“Blessed are You, Adonai, our God, King of the universe, Creator of human beings.”

“Amen.”

“Blessed are You, Adonai, our God, King of the universe, Who created human beings in Your image, fashioning perpetuated life. Blessed are You Adonai, Creator of human beings.”

“Amen.”

Laura turns just slightly towards T’Challa, a warm, thankful smile illuminating her face. “We shall surely exult and be glad in gathering our friends to us in the midst of celebration. Blessed are You, Adonai, Who grants joy to us and to the whole world.”

T’Challa inclines his head graciously, smiling back at her, amid the chorus of “Amen.”

Laura turns back towards Steve and Bucky, lifting the glass slightly higher to catch their attention. “And so grant joy to these loving companions as You did Your creatures in the garden of Eden. Blessed are You, Adonai, Who saw that it is not good for a person to be alone, and so has made for each a fitting helper.”

“Amen.” Steve runs a hand down Bucky’s metal arm.

Laura holds the cup higher. “Blessed are You, Adonai, our God, King of the universe, Who created joy and gladness, lovers and friends, mirth, song, delight and rejoicing,” she continues, turning her head and flicking her gaze, to draw in the whole gathering, “love and harmony and peace and companionship. Adonai, our God, let there be heard in the cities and streets the sound of joy and the sound of gladness, the jubilant voices of happy couples, the sound of song-filled feasts. Blessed are You Who causes rejoicing, Who has given us life, and sustained us, and enabled us to reach this season.”

“Amen.”

She hands the glass to Steve, who hardly has it in him to swallow now. Bucky somehow finds the capacity to be silly somewhere in his head, and leans his head dramatically back as he drains the cup of its last dregs. It works; Steve laughs and makes a face at him as he hands the cup back to Laura, who also smiles brightly at his giddiness.

“May Adonai bless you and keep you,” Wanda says, louder and more confident now. “May Adonai smile on you and be gracious to you. May Adonai make His face shine upon you, and give you peace.”

Lila proudly holds aloft a white drawstring pouch, holding a small glass, that she’s been hanging onto, and sets it on the ground.

“As King of Wakanda,” T’Challa calls out, his words illuminated by the swathe of fireflies now dotting the air, “the refuge of these men, I pronounce the wedding rite has been duly completed, and they are, from now on, to be known as married.”

“Ewe, siyavuma!” thunders over the cliffside, punctuated by the glass shattering in its pouch under Steve’s foot. Bucky reaches up with his metal hand before Steve can move, draws his face down into a kiss, and between the handful of people calling “Mazel tov!” as the rest burst into cheers, anyone would swear they heard all creation sing for them.

*

iv. night has always pushed up day

It’s gonna take a lot to drag me awa~y from you~

“Oh my God,” Sam whispers loudly, throwing hands and face skywards, and Shuri cackles loudly, making the first crack in the glass reverie Steve and Bucky have slipped into.

There’s nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do~

Steve cups the side of Bucky’s face, and draws him back in.

I bless the rai~ns down in A~frica~

“Shuri, what is this?” Ramonda demands, frowning at her gleeful daughter.

Gonna take some time to do the things we never ha~ve...”

Steve and Bucky break apart finally, giddy huffs of air serving as laughter and breath equally. T’Challa clears his throat, bringing their attention to the still-unfurled scroll he holds out to them; Bucky presses his right index finger on it first, then Steve, and finally T’Challa turns it back towards himself and seals the marriage with the ring on his finger.

The crowd—swollen in number now, by people whose curiosity had gotten the better of them—sways and bounces and giggles to the music, clearly unfamiliar to most of them but catchy enough regardless. Steve’s heard it before; Bucky hasn’t, but he still laughs at Steve humming along as they step down, back onto the beaten path they had walked here.

Steve had thought fifteen minutes of privacy between the ceremony and the feast would be good for them. T’Challa had thought a few minutes to schmooze some more with Noxolo, undistracted by his duties as the de facto host of this wedding, would be good for everyone, in the long run. Bucky had agreed with both of them, and so the entire party dances after them as they trip and stumble back to Bucky’s house, drunk on the weight of each other leaning against them.

Everything looks different than it did just twenty minutes before; the grass, the lake, the mountains in the near distance; Bucky’s home, their home. Like they belong to a different world now, one that’s cast in a warm shimmer, a star glowing irrespective of daylight or nighttime.

At the door they only remember to stop and turn back when the crowd raises a cry beseeching them to do so. They duck their heads, sheepish under the dozen or so knowing grins aimed at them. Unathi, near the front, raises her fist and calls something out; Shuri sees and lowers the music until it’s silent, quieting the crowd and letting the woman be heard.

“Iintsikelelo! Iintsikelelo!”

“Iintsikelelo!” a few people join in, and then more and more. “Iintsikelelo! Iintsikelelo!”

Nakia, hurried but graceful, comes forth, a goblet of dark silver in her hands that she passes into T’Challa’s. The royal couple can’t help but steal the quick kiss afforded by proximity and giddiness, before Nakia retreats into the low rumble of indulgent laughter behind her as T’Challa steps forward, casting a stream of wine onto the ground before the threshold.

“May the two who are going to live in this house have many years together!”

“Kuya kuba njalo!” the crowd responds, a sea of fists raised in the air.

“May they live in comfort!”

“Kuya kuba njalo!”

“May they be honest and good to the people, and to each other!”

“Kuya kuba njalo!”

“May they not suffer from disease, or any kind of trouble!”

“Kuya kuba njalo!”

“And,” T’Challa raises the cup high, and pours the last of the wine out over the ground, “may they be safe here, for all those years.”

“Kuya kuba njalo!”

T’Challa steps forward, the goblet held out before him. At his pointed glance Steve sets his hand on the cup, and Bucky does so a moment after him.

“Be like a river, abundance that never ends,” T’Challa says, loud enough to be heard by everyone, but looking, smiling, directly at them. “Be like a mountain, raised up above everything. Be like a cloud; a cloud that brings rain always.”

“Kuya kuba njalo!” goes up behind him, the loudest and strongest yet. T’Challa releases the goblet into their hands, and both of them, even Steve, struggle to get back the strength the king’s gifts have gently relieved them of.

“Thank you,” Bucky finally mumbles, barely audible but still heard by all. “We...thank you, we...”

His left arm is already folded over his chest, to hold the cup in tandem with Steve’s right hand; he crosses his other arm over as well, and Steve follows suite.

“Wakanda Forever.”

“Wakanda Forever!” comes back to them, a delighted wave crashing on their sands, and as the gathering erupts in cheers and excited chatter the newlyweds disappear into their home, leaving behind an unspoken promise to return soon.

They barely have time to put the cup down with anything resembling dignity before their arms are unbreakably full of each other, faces buried in shoulders and fingers clutching at fabric. It takes everything left within them not to sink to their knees, and they end up doing it anyway; shaking with laughter and tears, littering each other’s faces with clumsy desperate kisses.

“Thank you,” Bucky gulps hoarsely in Steve’s ear, clutching at him over and over like no hold he manages is strong enough. “For Shuri, and Sam, the wolf thing, Steve, I...”

“It was the least I could do, Buck. The absolute fucking least I could do for you.”

“My arm, Steve. I...Steve, fuck, I—”

Steve takes Bucky’s face in his hands and presses their lips together for one, two, five seconds, again, and again, until their breath is even and measured.

“I talked to them,” Steve says, resting their faces against each other. “To the team, I mean. I told them that I’m not gonna...I can’t...I can’t just quit, Buck, I can’t—”

“I know.” Bucky’s had too much of himself stripped away to ever try to guilt Steve into giving up the same. “Steve, I know.”

“But I’m not front line anymore," Steve says, somehow firm. "Not until...I told them to call me in only when they need me. Just then. Not a moment sooner. I know...I know it’s a pretty pisspoor wedding present but I’m gonna stay here, I’m gonna stay with you, as much as I can.”

“Steve...”

“‘Cause I can...I can trust them to handle things, for the most part, y’know?” Bucky nods, unconsciously, over and over. “Sam’s just as good at leadin’ a team as I am. And Wanda, she’s gotten really good, she can hold her own.”

“You’re doin’ so good with her Steve, you’re—”

“Clint and Nat’re as good as they ever were, and Scott’s not that bad, even. So I can...I can leave it to them. For awhile at least. Just until you’re...”

“Soon. As soon as I can, as soon as my nerves ain’t jumpin’ around like fucking fleas anymore, Steve, I swear to God, I’ll—”

Steve cuts him off with another kiss, one, two, five, ten seconds; breathing into him, breathing him, soothing them both.

“Buck, whatever you need...” His chest squeezes, and his hold tightens; Bucky melts into him like honey into hot wine and Steve will never let himself lose this, not ever again. “Wherever you are. I’m with you.”

“To the end of the line,” Bucky recites, automatic as blinking, instinctive as loving the man in front of him.

“End of the line,” Steve murmurs back, and seals it with a kiss.

The room is pitch-black as night settles in, the windows facing away from torches being set aflame outside to illuminate the feast waiting for them on the other side of fifteen minutes. Only Bucky’s arm lights their home, the bright golden streaks rippling across their skin and the walls and the low ceiling. There are spots here and there that shine brighter than others; as Bucky moves his arm they dance against Steve’s skin and clothes like planets amid shooting stars.

A whole system revolving around the sunshine.

How fitting, he finally dares permit himself to think, as winter starts to melt, as the storms pass, as the flowers crowning them perfume the air that’s filling with the muffled, vibrant sound of laughter and singing outside.

How fitting, he’ll let himself believe some day, that his husband looks at him—shines on him—like he’s the whole world.

*

And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?

I did.

And what did you want?

To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.