The final thaw -- at least he hoped, and if he'd been a religious man would have prayed -- found James waking in a warm bed in the sunlight, which was unexpected.
"My Ma used to say sunlight was the best soap," he said, then blinked at the sound of his voice saying it. He wasn't used to waking up with his memory intact.
"Well, ultraviolet radiation does have its benefits," said a voice, and a young woman smiled at him. On instinct he smiled back, going for cocky and charming. By the indulgently skeptical look on her face, he wasn't making the impression he'd hoped.
"Why am I out?" he asked, instead of trying to carry it off.
"Making sure you're clear," the young woman said. "How do you feel?"
"Tired," he said. "Clear?"
"We hope," she said. He was in a bed in a courtyard somewhere, and he noticed several women behind her with what he knew were the postures of soldiers. "Subconscious subliminal and neurochemical reprogramming."
"Oh," he said, nodding sagely.
"We fixed you while you were asleep," she translated. "I'd like to test it, if you don't mind."
She held up a slip of paper. His trigger sequence was on it, in his own hand.
He glanced from her to the soldiers, then nodded.
"Zhelaniye. Rzhavyy. Semnadtsat'. Rassvet. Pech'. Devyat'. Dobroserdechnyy. Vozvrashcheniye na rodinu. Odin. Gruzovoy vagon," she read aloud, stopping after each one to check him. It was agonizing, the anticipation, and it made him feel shaky and breathe shallow. But when she was done, he didn't feel anything: no time skips, no involuntary obedience. Just him on a bed in the sunshine, the girl, and the soldiers.
"Nothing," he said, and the girl pumped an arm in victory before composing herself. Behind her, one of the older women accepted what looked like coins from several younger ones.
"I'm Shuri," the girl added, offering her hand. "No point in introducing myself before now if you were just going to forget me."
"James Barnes," he replied. "You're a scientist here?"
She seemed pleased. "Yes," she said. "I am."
T'Challa was less pleased.
"There was a reason I kept you away from him," he said to Shuri, pacing around the room.
"But he's not dangerous anymore," Shuri pointed out. "And anyway, I had guards."
"But he could have been. You haven't seen how fast he moves, almost as fast as me. He could've had you by the throat before even the best warrior could draw breath."
"But he didn't."
T'Challa made a frustrated noise.
"I fixed him," Shuri said, obviously bewildered by his anger. "It wasn't so difficult. It didn't even take much time, relatively speaking -- "
"You think I care how much time it took?" T'Challa asked.
"I thought you'd be pleased! You're friends with the big white weirdo, I thought fixing the other one would be nice! A kind gesture!"
T'Challa pinched the bridge of his nose. "Shuri. This isn't about Rogers or Barnes. This is about you."
"Could have fooled me," she said sullenly, and T'Challa began to develop a greater appreciation for his parents' patience when he was at her age.
"Father is dead," he said, trying to explain this, because he suspected his father's inability to talk about certain things had led to many of the problems he now faced as king. "In the last year, in the last month, I have lost friends, too, and advisors. People died in the struggle between our people. I have lost so much, Shuri, and I cannot lose you as well!"
"But you didn't," she said, now sounding hurt as well as bewildered.
"But I could have. I'm angry because I'm scared," he admitted, but he admitted it angrily, so at least she didn't laugh at him. "I didn't like knowing that you went into battle but I accepted it because Wakanda was in need, and we have responsibilities as the royal family. If you had been hurt by some...some soldier from a past war, some outside interloper who means nothing to Wakanda -- "
"He's a person," Shuri said quietly.
"I know that! I let him stay, didn't I? But I would not trade your life for his."
"I wasn't aware you were in charge of my life to trade it away."
"Bast preserve us all," T'Challa muttered.
"That's what Father used to say when he didn't have a good argument," Shuri pointed out. "Why yell at me now? It's done, and nobody died."
"Because if I don't yell at you now, you'll just do something equally dangerous and think I don't care," he said.
"I know you care. That hasn't stopped me."
"Well, maybe it will at least make you pause and think," T'Challa said, dropping onto the bench next to her. She leaned into him, and he cradled her head against his shoulder.
"What will you do with him now?" T'Challa asked.
"It's not up to me."
"Well, you're the one who woke him up. He's your responsibility now."
"He's not a rhinoceros, I can't keep him as a pet."
"You cannot keep a rhinoceros as a pet either. They're war animals," T'Challa said.
"Impuku is too small and too dumb to be a war animal. Okoye said so."
"You can't have a pet rhinoceros." T'Challa untangled himself gently and stood up. "The white boy will be less trouble than a rhinoceros, probably. You figure out what to do with him."
"How do I do that?" she asked.
"I don't know. Ask him what he wants. I should think it'll be a novel sensation for him," T'Challa called over his shoulder as he left.
"I don't know," James said, when Shuri tried her brother's advice and asked him what he wanted. "I don't know what happens now."
"I mean...welcome to life?" Shuri said. "None of us knows what happens now."
"Someone's probably after me," James said, twiddling his new kimoyo bracelet, visibly trying to remember what each bead did. "Lots of someones, I bet. I should leave Wakanda before they decide to come in and get me."
Shuri giggled. He looked perturbed. "Oh, sorry. Just...nobody comes to Wakanda without Wakanda's permission."
"But they could try."
"So what? They have before. They will again. And it's more dangerous for you outside, isn't it? They could just snatch you if you left. Besides, your friend the Captain will miss you."
James leaned forward, hair screening his face. "Yeah. Suppose there's that."
"Don't you want to see him, your friend?"
James was silent for a while.
"Maybe I could enlist," he said finally. He sounded like he'd rather die. "You have soldiers here, don't you? I heard some of them talking about war dogs. Spies. I'm good at that."
"Is that what you want?" she asked.
"What I want hasn't come into the picture in a long time."
Shuri watched him thoughtfully. Nakia had made a suggestion or two, and it sounded like perhaps it was time to bring one of them up.
"You know, in Wakanda, we don't really keep a standing army," she said. "We don't need to. But everyone is trained, so they can serve. And some -- the Dora Milaje, the Royal Guard, our war dogs -- they serve like soldiers. Like you did, before."
He nodded. "I could do that."
"When their service is done, they're rewarded," Shuri continued. He turned his head sideways to look up at her, hair falling back from his face. "Many of them want quiet and peace. Many of them take land grants. Wakandan land is not unlimited, but we are blessed with a certain bounty. And there are many farm plots lying open near the border -- too close to the shield for most of those who want to stay inside it, not close enough to the outside for the Border Tribe. I think you'd like it, though."
"A land grant," he repeated.
"A farm. By the water. Small, but enough for one man. Close to the outside world, so you could slip away if you wanted. But in Wakanda, and with Wakanda's protection."
"The hell would I do with a farm? Pardon my language," he said. She shrugged.
"Grow vegetables. Keep livestock."
"I'm sure you'd manage," she said. "Nobody in Wakanda starves; you'd have a food allowance. If you wanted to, you could sleep, and walk your land, and say hello to your neighbors, and do nothing else."
"Why would you do that for me?" he asked. "I didn't serve Wakanda. I haven't done anything for you except cause trouble."
"Well, you might not have served Wakanda, but you did serve," she said. "And someday we may ask you to serve again. And..." she chewed her lip thoughtfully. "Well, I need a favor too."
"That's a rhino," James said, when she took him to meet Impuku.
"Yes," she agreed. He stared at it. "Have you never seen a rhinoceros before?"
"Uh...not in real life," he admitted. "That's a....war rhino?" he asked, looking around at the other rhinos that were training with armor on.
"His name's Impuku. It means 'mouse'," she said.
"Well, obviously," he replied, then looked as if he thought he might have overstepped. "Uh."
"Impuku can't be a war rhino," she said. "No good at war. He's small and very dumb."
"Okay," James said.
"But we can't just release him, because he'll bother people, or he'll get out of Wakanda and be poached," she continued. "So he needs a home."
James studied her. "You want me to move to a farm and look after a rhinoceros who washed out of boot camp."
"I think it is an option," Shuri said carefully.
James studied Impuku. Impuku locked eyes with him and broke wind with impressive stamina and noise.
"Okay," James agreed. Shuri beamed and held his wrist over the scanner on the gatepost of Impuku's pen, transferring him into James's care.
They settled him on a farm that butted right up against the border, so close he could wave to the men and women who lived outside the holoshield, who until recently had maintained Wakanda's facade as a country of poor farmers. The children outside the shield were very excited for the novelty of a wild-haired white neighbor, though they also hid and watched him from behind rocks and trees whenever he was nearby.
"They'll grow used to you," one of their fathers said, on a welcome-to-the-neighborhood kind of visit in his first week.
"They don't have to," James said gruffly. "I wouldn't blame them."
"Well, they'll at least risk meeting you for a chance to play with the rhino."
Impuku liked his new pasture, with access to the lake for wallowing and all the hay he could eat. He was, as Shuri had said, very stupid, and tended to pick fights with rocks, but at least he was gentle around people, and would let James lean up against him and scratch his shoulders.
For the first few weeks on the farm, James did little -- he slept, studied how to use his kimoyo beads, took visits from Shuri when she had time to spare. He met the children, and he stood in the sun with Impuku and cogitated on life a little, as Steve might have said. He decided to stop thinking of himself as James, a name that had never really fit anyway, and called himself Bucky again, and asked others to do the same. He, Bucky Barnes, idled the days away.
Eventually, though, he realized he'd need to resupply the hay for Impuku, and buy himself some food, and maybe treats for the children, who called him White Wolf because of his shaggy hair but didn't mind helping him tie it up, something he was still working at achieving one-handed. They were nice kids and deserved a chocolate bar or something. And if he was going to spend Wakandan money he didn't really feel he'd earned, he might as well invest some of it in the farm.
He was a city boy, hadn't even ever had any interest in farming, but there was no time like the present to learn.
The internet told him more or less how hay worked, and there were a few fruit trees he could start tending, to eventually harvest for treats for Impuku and maybe some jam (he had learned how to jar jam as a boy). His neighbors in the Border Tribe said the land was good for sweet potatoes and peanuts, but that he shouldn't keep cows if he was going to keep a rhinoceros, and anyway cows were expensive. Goats, on the other hand, were relatively cheap and likely to befriend a rhino, and a few of the local breeds were small enough to escape one if Impuku didn't like them.
Possibly the fact that his nearest neighbors herded goats -- "Wakandan dairy goats, the finest in the world!" -- played into their recommendations, but Bucky couldn't blame them.
Shuri showed up for a visit just as Bucky was finishing haggling for his first herd. She accepted a greeting from the awestruck Border Tribe goatherd, knelt down among the goats, and picked up a brown kid with extra-long ears.
"Here," she said to Bucky.
"Is that a good one?" Bucky asked.
"I don't know, but he's cute, isn't he?"
"She, Princess Shuri," the goatherd corrected.
"Oh excellent. You'll have milk, eventually," Shuri said.
"If you want milk, take her mother too. You pay me for five, I'll throw in the mother for free."
"Pay you for four and a half and give me the mother and two kids, I don't need six grown goats," Bucky insisted. The man rolled his eyes and complained loudly about a hard bargain, but he accepted the transfer and poked the desired goats with his crook, nudging them through the gate, into the small yard next to Impuku's pasture.
"What will you name them?" Shuri asked, leaning on the pen's fence.
"Hadn't thought about it," Bucky said. "I didn't think farmers named goats. You get attached, then you don't wanna eat them."
"Mm. Well, there's always vegetarianism," she said. "I think you should call that one Goaty McGoatface."
Bucky blinked. "What?"
"That one. The little one. Goaty McGoatface. Hello, Goaty McGoatface," she cooed, as the kid stumbled up to the fence and lipped at her fingers.
One of the other goats, the buck, was investigating Impuku through the fence. As Bucky watched, he backed up, bleated defiance, and butted the rhino's leg. Impuku startled and skittered away from a creature who was, at the end of the day, about the size of one of his poops.
"I'm naming that one Steve," Bucky said decidedly.
Before she left, Shuri had a visit to pay, and asked Bucky to come along. They hiked out to a ridge of land that marked the end of his territory and the start of another land-grant farm; at the end of his land, the earth fell away sharply, with a zig-zag path down it before the road evened out and then eventually rose again to a cottage atop a hill. He carried a basket of fruit and wine she'd brought, and the children carried a rolled-up rug on their shoulders, at least until they reached the ridge. Then they left it to him, scattering away, and Shuri took the basket.
Bucky had nearer neighbors on the border, so he hadn't gone up to meet the other landholder yet, and he was a little surprised to find she was an older woman with the head tattoos of a high-ranking Dora Milaje, who walked with the help of a prosthetic brace and a cane.
"Little queen," the woman cried, hurrying out to meet them. "Coming to bribe me, I'll bet!"
"Never, Nobomi!" Shuri said, swinging her basket and smiling. "Can't I bring an old woman some healthful wine?"
"Then it can't be for me, since I'm not old!" Nobomi protested.
"Don't make me carry it all the way back," Shuri said, as Bucky set the rug on a nearby rock.
"Make you carry it my ass, I saw that poor one-armed white boy hauling it for you along the ridge."
Shuri laughed. "Bucky, this is Nobomi. Nobomi, this is Sergeant James Barnes, your new neighbor."
"Yes, I've seen you wrestling the rhino," Nobomi said. "You should have visited before now."
"I'm sorry, ma'am," Bucky said, feeling as though he was back in Brooklyn, being scolded by one of the older women in the building for making a mess or yelling in the halls.
"Well, at least Shuri brought you. Come in and help me unroll that rug I bought, and you can tell me a war story," Nobomi invited. "I'll trade you fight for fight!"
"Nobomi was a general of the Dora Milaje of T'Chaka when I was a baby," Shuri told him. "I used to swing from her spear while she tried to talk strategy with my father."
"Don't let her lie to you. She had big ears for a little girl. She learned much from listening to her father's strategy meetings," Nobomi replied, dropping into a big, soft chair in the cottage. Bucky spread out the rug in a clear area of the floor that it was obviously meant for, then pulled up a stool. He was easier not sitting in chairs, where he sometimes tried to lean on an arm that was no longer there.
"I understand you were a soldier," Nobomi prompted.
"Yes, ma'am," Bucky said. He'd pulled away from it before, unwilling to relive the war for an audience who thought of it as adventure stories or light entertainment. But Nobomi had a certain gaze, level and interested, that said she understood what telling a story of the war really meant. "I was never a general, though."
She laughed. "No, you have the very air of a sergeant! Well, we're both farmers now. Let me tell you, I still know how to fight if I had to. Even with this leg, which I got pulling a certain young hotheaded prince out of a very justified fight -- "
Bucky sat back a little and listened as she offered the first story, and it did remind him of a story about the time Steve almost blew their cover over two Nazis harassing a potato seller, which made Nobomi laugh and respond with a story of espionage from her youthful war dog days. At some point Bucky registered Shuri slipping out the door, but he didn't really pay much attention, and by the time they were done telling stories, night was falling.
"Stay for dinner," Nobomi invited, going to the oven to take out something that must have been slow-cooking for ages, which smelled so good his mouth watered. "The Princess will have found her way home, and I don't think your goats need you back just yet."
"Don't mind if I do," he replied. "Shuri could have stayed, though, I wouldn't mind."
"Shuri is wise for her years. She knew I'd take a shine to you. And you seemed lonely anyway," she said. "So I figure if I feed you before sending you off, you'll come keep an old farmer company sometimes. I can't quite get over the ridge anymore."
"I can't say I'd mind, General," he said. She shot him a knowing look.
"Well then it's an order, Sergeant," she replied.
Bucky privately began to refer to his farm as The Ranch of Dumbasses before Clint showed up, but Clint didn't help.
The crops were doing fine, and the hay grew fast enough to sustain Impuku. Impuku himself could get his head stuck in a tree trying to steal a fruit, and Steve lived up to his name by constantly escaping and fighting anything that moved, but the rest of the goats were content to wallow with Impuku. All of the animals grew used to the children, who visited on hot afternoons and peppered him with questions, or gossipped about people he didn't know.
A flock of some kind of goose had settled near the lake, and were slow enough he could usually catch one for dinner if he wanted, and there was a grocery store about two hours' walk away, so he lived pretty well. Bucky himself often felt like a dumbass while learning to hoe rows or milk goats or make cheese ("What is this?" Shuri asked of the first batch. "Is it soap? Should it be this...consistency?") but he was learning.
Then one morning Impuku had an epic fit and alerted Bucky to the fact that Something Was In His Pen That Shouldn't Be. At first Bucky ignored him, because Impuku often felt that way about rocks that had been in his pen forever, small rodents, and the occasional windblown leaf, but it became evident fairly quickly that what was in his pen was a human, and definitely should not be there.
Clint Barton was sitting up one of the trees, safely out of the way, while Impuku freaked out all over him. He gave Bucky a sheepish look.
Bucky vaulted the fence, nudged Goaty McGoatface out of the way with his boot, and grabbed Impuku by his horn, tugging him sideways. When the rhino refused to move, he let go of the horn, put him in about half a headlock, and dragged him back towards the goat pen. Steve the Goat immediately hopped up to the top of the fence, brayed angrily, and butted Impuku in the thigh. As generally happened, Impuku took off for the water with Steve frolicking at his heels.
Barton stared at them, then at Bucky, then at the remaining goats, who were watching with their weird goat eyes.
"I snuck into Wakanda," Barton said.
"How's that working out for you?" Bucky asked.
"In fairness, it was going fine until someone pointed me at your farm," Barton replied, eyeballing the goats some more.
"You can get out of the tree, they won't hurt you," Bucky told him. "Steve's the only angry one. This is Goaty McGoatface," he said, before he thought about it.
"Goaty McGoatface," Barton repeated.
"The princess named her, I didn't really feel I could argue."
"Sure. Sure, fair. Is that one Totes McGoats?" he asked, pointing at Goaty's mother, who had previously simply been Mrs. McGoatface.
"She is now," Bucky replied.